By Markham Heid
Fibroids—benign tumors that develop in the muscle tissue of the uterus—show up in 80% of women by age 50. But despite their prevalence and the risks they pose, the average sufferer waits nearly four years before seeking treatment, finds new research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Also known as leiomyomas, fibroids tend to show up starting in a woman’s late 20s—although they’re relatively common among younger women, explains study coauthor Wanda Nicholson, MD, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. While doctors aren’t certain exactly what causes fibroids or how to prevent them, they do know that if left untreated, fibroids can grow and multiply, which could prevent you from conceiving or increase your risk for miscarriage. Ignoring the problem could also reduce the number of treatment options available to you, while at the same time upping your risk for pain and bleeding associated with your period, Dr. Nicholson adds.
Why do so many women put off treatment? Some may not understand the risks—or may not even recognize that fibroids are present, Dr. Nicholson says. Others may be under the false impression that invasive surgeries—namely, a hysterectomy—are the only treatment options, and so avoid addressing the issue for fear that they’ll lose their ability to have children. But in reality, treatments range from watch-and-wait strategies to hormone therapies, Dr. Nicholson says. “It really depends on the woman, her symptoms, and her stage of life.”
What are the signs of fibroids? Changes in the pain, intensity, or bleeding you experience during your period—as well as longer or multiple cycles per month—are the most common symptoms, Dr. Nicholson says. “Every woman experiences a particularly heavy or painful month from time to time. But if that change persists for several months, it’s time to speak with your doctor.” Fibroid screening involves a physical exam and an ultrasound.
The most important thing to understand is that you have options, and to discuss these options with your doctor, Dr. Nicholson adds. She also advises women to learn more about symptoms and treatments by visiting FibroidRelief.org, a non-profit organization established to help sufferers manage their condition.