Uterine fibroids, also known as leiomyomas, are common benign growths that develop in the uterus. While often harmless, fibroids can cause a range of symptoms and complications depending on their size, location, and number. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of uterine fibroids is crucial for timely diagnosis and appropriate management. In this article, we will take a look at the key indicators that can help individuals determine if they have uterine fibroids and when to seek medical attention.
How Do You Know If You Have Fibroids?
Research has shown that almost 80% of women will have experienced uterine fibroids by the time they are in their fifties.
Women of color are two to three times more likely to develop uterine fibroids at younger ages. Many women with fibroids do not experience any symptoms and do not require treatment; however, understanding fibroid symptoms can promote earlier detection and intervention.
Fibroid Symptoms Include
- Menstrual Irregularities
- One of the most common signs of uterine fibroids is menstrual irregularity. This can include heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, often with the need to change sanitary pads or tampons more frequently than normal. Some women may experience lengthy periods lasting more than a week or bleeding between periods. In fact, uterine fibroids can cause such excessive bleeding that they can cause a serious condition called anemia and diminish a woman’s quality of life.
- Pelvic Pain and Pressure
- Uterine fibroids can cause pelvic pain and pressure, which may range from mild discomfort to severe cramping. The pain can be localized in the lower abdomen or radiate to the lower back. Larger fibroids or those located near the bladder or rectum can lead to increased pressure on these organs, causing a sensation of fullness or the need to urinate frequently.
- Enlarged Abdomen
- In some cases, uterine fibroids can cause the abdomen to appear enlarged or distended. This is particularly common when fibroids grow larger or multiple fibroids are present. The increased size of the uterus due to fibroids can lead to a noticeable bulge in the lower abdomen. In fact, Cynthia Bailey, the “Real Housewives” celebrity, told of a time in 2013 when rumors were circulating that she was pregnant because she had a noticeable belly bump, but in reality she was suffering from fibroids.
- Urinary and Bowel Symptoms
- Fibroids located near the bladder or bowel can cause urinary and bowel symptoms. These may include frequent urination, difficulty emptying the bladder completely, increased urgency to urinate, constipation, or difficulty with bowel movements. Many women are unable to get a good night’s sleep because they must get up several times during the night to use the bathroom.
- Painful Intercourse
- Some women with uterine fibroids may experience pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse. Fibroids can cause pressure on the cervix or interfere with the normal movement of the uterus during sexual activity, resulting in pain or discomfort.
- Back or Leg Pain
- Large uterine fibroids that are located on the back side of the uterus can begin to press on nerves, causing pain in the lower back and legs similar to sciatica. Many times, fibroids are not considered the source of this type of pain and are misdiagnosed.
- Infertility or Pregnancy Complications
- In certain cases, uterine fibroids can affect fertility or lead to complications during pregnancy. Fibroids can interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg or disrupt the blood supply to the developing fetus. Women with fibroids may experience difficulty getting pregnant or an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, or other pregnancy-related complications.
When to Seek Medical Attention If You Think You Have Uterine Fibroids
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above or have concerns about your reproductive health, it is important to consult your doctor. It is best to not try to self-diagnose. Diagnosing uterine fibroids typically involves a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, and imaging tests.
Here is an overview of the diagnostic process for uterine fibroids:
- Your healthcare provider will begin by discussing your symptoms, menstrual history, and any relevant medical conditions. Providing information about the nature, duration, and severity of your symptoms will help them evaluate the likelihood of uterine fibroids;
- During a pelvic examination, your OB-GYN will feel your abdomen and internally examine your reproductive organs. This allows them to check for any abnormalities, such as an enlarged uterus or palpable fibroids;
- The OB-GYN will typically perform an ultrasound to confirm the presence of uterine fibroids because these machines are usually onsite and readily accessible. A transabdominal or transvaginal ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the uterus and fibroids. This imaging technique is limited in determining the size, location, and characteristics of the fibroids. The best way to diagnose uterine fibroids is through MRI imaging.
Your OB-GYN may suggest monitoring the fibroids over time and managing the associated symptoms. However, they may also offer treatment options, such as medication, UFE, or surgery, based on the severity of symptoms, the impact on fertility, or personal preferences.
Why Is An MRI The Best Way To Diagnose Uterine Fibroids?
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is considered the best imaging technique for diagnosing uterine fibroids due to its ability to provide detailed and high-resolution images of the uterus and surrounding structures. Here are some reasons why MRI is particularly effective in diagnosing uterine fibroids:
- Accuracy in Fibroid Detection: MRI can accurately identify the presence, location, size, and number of fibroids within the uterus. It can distinguish fibroids from other uterine abnormalities or tumors, ensuring a precise diagnosis;
- Detailed Visualization: MRI provides exceptional anatomical detail, allowing healthcare professionals to evaluate fibroids in great detail. It can distinguish different types of fibroids, such as subserosal, intramural, or submucosal fibroids, and help determine how they may be affecting other organs, nerves, or other structures within the pelvic region;
- Differentiation from Other Conditions: An MRI can help differentiate fibroids from other conditions that may have similar symptoms, such as adenomyosis (a condition where the uterine lining grows into the muscular wall of the uterus). This differentiation is important for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning;
- Assessment of Blood Supply: An MRI can evaluate the blood supply to fibroids using a technique called contrast-enhanced MRI. This information is crucial for determining the vascularity of fibroids and aids in treatment decision-making, particularly for procedures like uterine fibroid embolization (UFE);
- Evaluation of Surrounding Structures: An MRI can assess the impact of fibroids on adjacent structures, such as the bladder or rectum. It helps identify any compression or displacement caused by fibroids, which can assist in determining the most suitable treatment approach;
- Treatment Planning: An MRI can provide valuable information for treatment planning. It allows the doctor to assess the size, number, and location of the fibroids.
While MRI is an excellent tool for diagnosing uterine fibroids, it is worth noting that it is usually not the first-line imaging modality. Transabdominal or transvaginal ultrasound is often used as an initial imaging technique due to accessibility and cost-effectiveness. This being said, it is important to note that self-pay MRI centers are becoming more accessible, with average costs being between $350 and $400. This may be less than the average insurance deductible these days and a small price to pay for accuracy in a diagnosis.
What Should I Do If I Know I Have Fibroids?
Once a diagnosis of uterine fibroids is confirmed by your OB-GYN, your best course of action is to consult with an interventional radiologist like Dr. John Lipman or Dr. Mitchell Ermentrout from the Atlanta Fibroid Center.
Seeing an interventional radiologist who has expertise in treating uterine fibroids can be beneficial for several reasons.
- Interventional radiologists are specialized medical professionals who use minimally invasive techniques and image guidance to diagnose and treat various conditions, including uterine fibroids;
- An interventional radiologist can conduct a comprehensive evaluation of your specific case. Using an MRI, they will assess the size, number, and location of your fibroids, as well as their impact on surrounding structures. This evaluation is important for determining the most suitable treatment approach tailored to your needs;
- For individuals who desire to preserve fertility, interventional radiologists can offer treatment options that specifically address uterine fibroids while keeping the uterus intact. Procedures like UFE can effectively reduce fibroid size and alleviate symptoms without compromising fertility.
Our interventional radiologists at the Atlanta Fibroid Center, Dr. John Lipman and Dr. Mitchell Ermentrout, have the expertise and experience to perform a non-surgical treatment for uterine fibroids. This treatment specifically targets the fibroids while preserving the uterus, offering an alternative to traditional surgical interventions like hysterectomy or myomectomy.
By consulting with an interventional radiologist, you can benefit from their specialized knowledge, expertise in minimally invasive procedures, and access to the latest advancements in fibroid treatment. They provide alternative options to surgical intervention, and personalized care, and can help you make an informed decision.
Where Can I Find A Specialist Who Treats Uterine Fibroids Without Surgery?
The Atlanta Fibroid Center is known as the premier treatment center for uterine fibroids, with more than 25 years of history in the Atlanta area. It was the first in Georgia to be given the distinguished honor of being recognized as a Fibroid Center of Excellence by the Boston Scientific Corporation and BioSphere Medical (Merit Medical).
Our patients are not only locals, but women from all over the world who come to us for treatment to benefit from the extensive knowledge and expertise of Dr. Lipman and his excellent team.
If you want to know if you have uterine fibroids or have been diagnosed with them and are looking for a non-invasive treatment, please set up an appointment today. We would welcome the opportunity to share our expertise with you and help you make the treatment decision that is right for you.
You can be free from your fibroid symptoms after a short 45-minute procedure. Contact us today to learn how!