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Fibroids – sometimes called leiomyoma or myoma – are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus. Usually benign (not cancerous), fibroids can range in size and may be one or multiple growths.

Risk factors for developing fibroids include:

  • Age. Fibroids are more common as you age, especially between your 30s and 40s and around menopause.
  • Family history. If your mother had fibroids, your risk is about three times higher than average.
  • Ethnicity. Black women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.

What you can do to help prevent or treat fibroids

There are no known ways to prevent fibroids because the causes haven't been identified.

Doctors check for fibroids during annual examinations because most women with fibroids do not have symptoms. Fibroids without symptoms can be left untreated for women who don't plan on becoming pregnant.

If you do have symptoms, such as heavy or painful periods or pain during sex, or are planning to have a baby, your doctor will recommend ways to treat your fibroids and alleviate symptoms. Treatment options may include:

  • Medications. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain killers (like ibuprofen and acetaminophen), iron supplements, low-dose birth control pills or injections, or gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa) – drugs given by injection, nasal spray or implant, which can shrink your fibroids.
  • Surgery. If you have fibroids with moderate or severe symptoms, surgery may be the best way to treat them. If the fibroids can't be removed without damaging the uterus, a doctor may recommend removing part or all of the uterus. There are also various methods to shrink and destroy fibroids inside the body.

How to talk to your doctor

Talk to your obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) about possible fibroids if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Heavy bleeding or painful periods
  • Enlargement of the pelvic area or lower abdomen
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower back pain

If your doctor suspects that you have fibroids, additional tests like an ultrasound or MRI may be needed. Ask your doctor about imaging tests – such as ultrasound, MRI, X-ray or CAT scans – to confirm that you have fibroids. You might also need a procedure in which the doctor inserts a long, thin scope either through your navel or vagina, to look for fibroids in your uterus.

Women with fibroids are more likely to have problems during pregnancy and delivery, such as breech birth, slow labor, early placenta delivery and preterm delivery. It's important to discuss your pregnancy plans with your doctor if you have fibroids.