What Are the Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids?

How do you know if you have uterine fibroids?

More than 70 percent of women will develop uterine fibroids at some time. For reasons not yet understood, some fibroids cause severe symptoms and others do not. Fibroids tend to become symptomatic in women 35 to 50 years old. Symptoms decrease after menopause in women not taking estrogen-replacement therapy.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Menstrual discomfort: Periods may be abnormally heavy and last more than a week. Some women are concerned about socially embarrassing bleeding and hesitate to engage in their normal activities. Bleeding may be severe enough to cause anemia.
  • Bleeding between periods: Submucosal fibroids are most likely to cause abnormal bleeding, but any bleeding between periods should be checked by a physician.
  • Leg, back, or pelvic pain or pressure: A fibroid increases the size of the uterus, sometimes to the size of a 4 or 5 month pregnancy. The enlarged uterus is often “lumpy” and presses on nearby structures such as the bladder and lower intestine, causing constipation or frequent urination.
  • Difficulty conceiving or miscarriage: Most women with fibroids do not have fertility problems, but sometimes fibroids make it more difficult to become pregnant by natural methods. Fibroids large enough to significantly change the shape of the uterine cavity can be associated with miscarriage, premature labor, and complications of labor.

Diagnosis by a physician usually requires a routine pelvic examination to evaluate the size and shape of the uterus. A uterus with fibroids feels larger and has a more irregular shape. Ultrasound, MRI, or CT imaging may be used to confirm the diagnosis.