Is Your Bloating Actually Fibroids?

From swelling to infertility, fibroids can be more than just a pain.

Woman clutching stomach

Fibroids — benign tumors that grow within the walls of the uterus — are very common. In fact, studies have found that 70-80% of women may have fibroids by age 50. Although they are usually not cancerous, they can cause severe pain and swelling and affect fertility. But sometimes, fibroids present no symptoms at all, which can make them hard to diagnose.

Fortunately, fibroids can be treated. Here's what to know:

What Are Fibroids?

Fibroids are usually benign (noncancerous) tumors that grow in the walls of the uterus. A fibroid is rarely cancerous and can be smaller than a pea or grow as large as a cantaloupe. They can grow as a single nodule or in clusters.

Are Fibroids Common?

If you have a uterus, you can develop fibroids, but you may be at increased risk if:

  • You're between the ages of 30 to 40 years
  • You have a family history of fibroids
  • You're African American
  • You're overweight
  • You eat a lot of red meat

Doctors don't know for sure what causes fibroids, but studies suggest they are related to elevated hormone levels. Fibroids tend to grow during pregnancy when hormones are high and shrink when anti-hormone medications are given and after menopause.

What Are the Symptoms of Fibroids?

Fibroids don't always cause symptoms. But when they do, it can include:

  • Heavy or prolonged menstruation
  • Feeling full in the pelvic region (lower stomach)
  • Bloating
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Pregnancy and delivery complications
  • Reproductive problems

Your doctor may feel fibroids during a pelvic exam and will confirm the diagnosis using an ultrasound or other imaging tests.

How Are Fibroids Treated?

Not everyone who has fibroids will need treatment. It depends on the symptoms, location, and size of the fibroids. Things like your age and whether or not you want to have children in the future will also be factors when deciding on treatment. If the fibroids aren't causing bothersome symptoms and if you don't plan to have children in the future, you may not need to do anything.

For mild symptoms, doctors will often suggest over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help with pain and discomfort. If you have heavy bleeding, a doctor may prescribe a low-dose birth control method. Other hormone-type drugs may be used to shrink fibroids before surgery.

If the fibroids are especially large or cause severe pain, your doctor may recommend surgery. A hysterectomy can be performed to remove the fibroids along with the uterus in women who are nearing menopause or okay with not having children in the future. Alternatively, a myomectomy, in which doctors remove only the fibroids, is an option that preserves fertility.

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

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