Uterine fibroids are growths that develop from the muscle tissue of the uterus. They also are called leiomyomas or myomas.
The size, shape, and location of fibroids can vary greatly. They may be present inside the uterus, on the outer surface or within its wall, or attached to it by a stem-like structure.
Fibroids can range in size from small, pea-sized growths to large, round ones that may be more than 5-6 inches wide. As they grow, they can distort the inside as well as the outside of the uterus. Sometimes fibroids grow large enough to completely fill the pelvis or abdomen.
A woman may have only one fibroid or many of varying sizes. Whether fibroids will occur singly or in groups is hard to predict. They may remain very small for a long time, suddenly grow rapidly, or grow slowly over a number of years.
The first signs of fibroids may be detected during a routine pelvic exam. A number of tests may show more information about fibroids:
- Ultrasonography uses sound waves to create a picture of the uterus and other pelvic organs.
- Hysteroscopy uses a slender device (the hysteroscope) to see the inside of the uterus. It is inserted through the vagina and cervix (opening of the uterus). This permits the doctor to see fibroids inside the uterine cavity.
- Hysterosalpingography is a special X-ray test. It may detect abnormal changes in the size and shape of the uterus and fallopian tubes.
- Sonohysterography is a test in which fluid is put into the uterus through the cervix. Ultrasonography is then used to show the inside of the uterus. The fluid provides a clear picture of the uterine lining.
- Laparoscopy uses a slender device (the laparoscope) to help the doctor see the inside of the abdomen. It is inserted through a small cut just below or through the navel. The doctor can see fibroids on the outside of the uterus with the laparoscope.