Most are harmless, do not cause symptoms, and shrink with . But some fibroids are painful, press on other internal organs, bleed and cause , or cause pregnancy problems. If you have a fibroid problem, there are several treatments to consider. Fibroids can be surgically removed, the blood supply to fibroids can be cut off, the entire uterus can be removed, or medicine can temporarily shrink fibroids. Your choice will depend on whether you have severe symptoms and whether you want to preserve your fertility.
Watchful waiting for minimal fibroid symptoms or when nearing menopause
If you have uterine fibroids but you have few or no symptoms, you do not need treatment. Instead, your health professional will recommend watchful waiting. This means that you will have regular pelvic exams to check on fibroid growth and symptoms. Talk with your health professional about how often you will need a checkup.
If you are nearing , watchful waiting may be an option for you, depending on how tolerable your symptoms are. After menopause, your and levels will drop, which causes most fibroids to shrink and symptoms to subside.
For heavy menstrual bleeding or pain
If you have pain or heavy menstrual bleeding, it may be from a bleeding . But it may also be linked to a simple problem or other problems. (For more information, see the topic Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding.) The following medicines are used to relieve heavy menstrual bleeding, anemia, or painful periods, but they do not shrink fibroids:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) therapyimproves menstrual cramping and reduces bleeding for many women. But there isno evidence that NSAIDs relieve pain or bleeding specifically caused byfibroids.4
- Birth control hormones (pill, patch, or ring) lightenmenstrual bleeding and pain while preventing pregnancy.
- An intrauterine device that releases small amounts of a certain hormone into the uterus may reduce heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Aprogestin shot (Depo-Provera) every 3 months maylighten your bleeding. It also prevents pregnancy. Based on different studies,progestin may improve fibroids or may make them grow.5, 2 This might be different for eachwoman.
- Iron supplements, available without a prescription, are animportant part of correcting caused by fibroid blood loss.
For infertility and pregnancy problems
If you have fibroids, there is no way of knowing for certain whether they are affecting your fertility. Fibroids are the cause of infertility only 2% to 3% of the time. Many women with fibroids have no trouble getting pregnant.
If a fibroid distorts the wall of the uterus, it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. This may make an less likely to be successful, if the fertilized egg doesn't implant after it is transferred to the uterus.6
Surgical fibroid removal, called myomectomy, is the only fibroid treatment that may improve your chances of having a baby.2 Because fibroids can grow again, it is best to try to become pregnant as soon as possible after a myomectomy.
For severe fibroid symptoms
If you have -related pain, heavy bleeding, or a large fibroid that is pressing on other organs, you can consider shrinking the fibroid, removing the fibroid (myomectomy) , or removing the entire uterus (hysterectomy). After all treatments except hysterectomy, fibroids may grow back. Only myomectomy is recommended for women who have future childbearing plans.
To shrink a fibroid for a short time, hormone therapy with a gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogue (GnRH-a) puts the body in a state like . This shrinks both the uterus and the fibroids. Fibroids grow back after GnRH-a therapy. GnRH-a therapy can help to:
- Shrink a fibroid before it is surgically removed. This lowersyour risk of heavy blood loss and scar tissue from the surgery.
- Provide short-term relief as a "bridge therapy" if you are nearingmenopause. (Fibroids naturally shrink after menopause.)
GnRH-a therapy should be used for only a few months because it can weaken the bones. It also may cause unpleasant menopausal symptoms.
To surgically remove fibroids, myomectomy can often be done through one or more small incisions using or through the vagina (). Sometimes, a larger abdominal incision is needed. Myomectomy preserves the uterus, and makes pregnancy possible for some women.
To shrink or destroy fibroids without surgery, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) (also called uterine artery embolization) stops the blood supply to the fibroid. The fibroid then shrinks and may break down. UFE preserves the uterus, but pregnancy is not common after treatment. UFE is not usually recommended for women who plan to become pregnant.7
Another treatment used to destroy fibroids without surgery is MRI-guided focused ultrasound. This treatment uses high-intensity ultrasound waves to break down the fibroids. Studies show that this treatment is safe and works well at relieving symptoms. But more studies are needed to find out if it works over time.7
To surgically remove the entire uterus, hysterectomy is available to women with long-lasting or severe symptoms who have no future pregnancy plans. Hysterectomy has both positive and negative long-term effects. For more information, see the topic Hysterectomy.
- Uterine fibroids: Should I use GnRH-a therapy?
- Uterine fibroids: Should I have surgery?
- Uterine fibroids: Should I have uterine fibroid embolization?
There are several other ways of removing fibroids or killing fibroid tissue using extreme cold (cryomyolysis), or laser (myolysis). But they are still new enough that risks and long-term benefits are not yet fully known.8 If your doctor offers one of these procedures, ask how many of the procedures he or she has done, how successful they have been, and what kinds of problems can result. These treatments are not recommended for women who are trying to become pregnant.2
What To Think About
Fibroids can grow back after a or after .
Compared to myomectomy, UFE is quicker and has a shorter recovery time.
The risk of complications (like severe pain or infection) is about the same after surgery or UFE.9
- With surgery (hysterectomy or myomectomy),most complications happen in the first days, in the hospital.
- WithUFE, most complications happen in the following weeks or months, athome.