Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the womb (uterus). The growths are made up of muscle and fibrous tissue and vary in size. Many women are unaware they have fibroids because they don't have any symptoms.
Symptoms of fibroids
Women who do have symptoms (around 1 in 3) may experience:
- heavy periods or painful periods
- tummy (abdominal) pain
- lower back pain
- a frequent need to urinate
- pain or discomfort during sex
In rare cases, further complications caused by fibroids can affect pregnancy or cause infertility.
Seeing your GP
As fibroids don't often cause symptoms, they're sometimes diagnosed by chance during a routine gynaecological examination, test or scan.
See your GP if you have persistent symptoms of fibroids, see above, so they can investigate possible causes.
If your GP thinks you may have fibroids, they'll usually refer you for an ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis.
Why fibroids develop
The exact cause of fibroids is unknown, but they've been linked to the female hormone oestrogen.
Fibroids usually develop during a woman's reproductive years (from around the age of 16 to 50) when oestrogen levels are at their highest.
They tend to shrink when oestrogen levels are low, such as after the menopause (when a woman's monthly periods stop).
People who get fibroids
Fibroids are common, with about 1 in 3 women developing them at some point in their life. They most often occur in women aged 30 to 50.
Fibroids are thought to develop more frequently in women of African-Caribbean origin.
They occur more often in women who are overweight. This is because being overweight increases the level of oestrogen in the body.
Women who've had children have a lower risk of developing fibroids. The risk decreases further the more children you have.
Types of fibroids
Fibroids can grow anywhere in the womb and vary in size considerably. Some can be the size of a pea, whereas others can be the size of a melon.
The most common type of fibroid is one which develops in the muscle wall of the womb.
Fibroids that develop outside the wall of the womb, into the pelvis, can become very large.
Fibroids that develop in the muscle layer beneath the womb's inner lining, can grow into the cavity of the womb causing reduced fertility.
Fibroids don't need to be treated if they aren't causing symptoms. Over time, they will often shrink and disappear without treatment, particularly after the menopause.
If you do have symptoms caused by fibroids, medication to help relieve the symptoms will usually be recommended first.
There are also medications available to help shrink fibroids. If these do not help, surgery may be recommended.
The health professional, looking after your care, will discuss the most appropriate treatment with you.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.