Treatment for fibroids can range from no treatment at all to surgery. Unless fibroids are causing excessive bleeding, discomfort or bladder problems, treatment usually isn't necessary.
If you have fibroids, you should be evaluated periodically to review symptoms, and to monitor the fibroid and uterus size with abdominal and pelvic examinations. If you don't have symptoms, routine pelvic ultrasounds have very little benefit. Fibroids are likely to grow each year until menopause, but this isn't an indication that you need treatment, unless the change is accompanied by disabling symptoms.
The following are treatment options for fibroids:
Currently, the medications available for fibroids can temporarily improve symptoms but do not make the fibroids go away. For women with heavy bleeding, it is worth trying medication before undergoing a surgical procedure. Women with pressure symptoms caused by large fibroids won't benefit from any medicines currently available.
There are several promising new drugs on the horizon that will treat the fibroids themselves, not just the symptoms.
Women with heavy menstrual periods and fibroids are often prescribed hormonal medications to try to reduce bleeding and regulate the menstrual cycle. These medications will not shrink fibroids or make them grow at a faster rate.
If the medication has not improved your bleeding after three months, consult your doctor. Women over the age of 35 who smoke should not use oral contraceptives.
GnRH agonists are a class of medications that temporarily shrink fibroids and stop heavy bleeding by blocking production of the female hormone, estrogen. Lupron is the most well known of these drugs. Although Lupron can improve fibroid symptoms, it causes unpleasant menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Long-term use can cause bone loss.
Lupron is recommended only for very specific cases. It may be recommended if you have heavy bleeding and serious anemia, and would need a blood transfusion during fibroid surgery. If you take Lupron for two to three months before surgery, your periods may temporarily stop and eliminate the need for a blood transfusion. Lupron also may be recommended if you have very large fibroids — greater than 10 to 12 centimeters — prior to fibroid surgery. Lupron should not be used solely to shrink fibroids unless surgery is planned, because fibroids will re-grow to their original size as soon as you stop taking Lupron.
Although IUDs are typically used to prevent pregnancy, they have other benefits as well. An IUD that releases a small amount of hormone into the uterine cavity can decrease bleeding caused by fibroids.
An IUD can be inserted during a routine office appointment.
A myomectomy is an operation to remove fibroids while preserving the uterus. For women who have fibroid symptoms and want to have children in the future, myomectomy is the best treatment option.
Myomectomy is very effective, but fibroids can re-grow. The younger you are and the more fibroids you have at the time of myomectomy, the more likely you are to develop fibroids again in the future. Women nearing menopause are the least likely to have recurring problems from fibroids after a myomectomy.
A myomectomy can be performed several different ways. Depending on the size, number and location of your fibroids, you may be eligible for an abdominal myomectomy, a laparoscopic myomectomy or a hysteroscopic myomectomy.
Read more about myomectomy.
Hysterectomy is a major surgical procedure in which the uterus is removed. Many women choose hysterectomy to definitively resolve their fibroid symptoms. After hysterectomy, menstrual bleeding stops, pelvic pressure is relieved, frequent urination improves and new fibroids cannot grow. A woman can no longer become pregnant after a hysterectomy.
The ovaries are not necessarily removed during a hysterectomy. Generally, if a woman is in menopause or close to menopause, the ovaries are removed. The ovaries may also be removed if they look abnormal or if the patient wants to decrease her chance of developing ovarian cancer later in life. In pre-menopausal women, removal of the ovaries can cause hot flashes, vaginal dryness and other symptoms. You should discuss the pros and cons of ovarian removal with your doctor.
There are several hyterectomy surgical approaches: a vaginal hysterectomy, an abdominal hysterectomy and a laparoscopic hysterectomy. The choice of procedure will depend on the size of the uterus and several other factors.
Read more about hysterectomy.
Uterine artery embolization is a relatively new procedure and an alternative to open surgery for fibroids. Embolization is a technique that blocks the blood flow to the fibroid or fibroids, causing them to shrink and die. This also often decreases menstrual bleeding and symptoms of pain, pressure, urinary frequency or constipation.
UAE is performed in a radiology suite rather than an operating room, by an interventional radiologist. An intravenous (IV) line will be placed before beginning the procedure, and you will be sedated. You will remain awake, but sleepy, throughout the procedure.
A needle is placed in an artery in your leg, at the groin crease. A small catheter is then placed into the artery and X-rays are taken of the arteries — a test called an arteriogram — that supply the fibroids. The catheter is then used to select these arteries and slowly inject particles called polyvinyl alcohol, which are the size of a sand grain. The particles block the flow of blood. After the left and right uterine arteries are embolized, another arteriogram is performed to confirm the procedure is complete.
Afterward, you must rest in bed for six hours, lying flat with your leg straight. The amount of pain patients experience varies. The most significant pain usually occurs immediately following the procedure and over the next six hours. Patients usually stay overnight in the hospital, so we can monitor the arterial access site and provide adequate pain control. You will be discharged the next morning. Most women can return to full activity in a week.
When blood flow to the fibroid is blocked, the fibroid gets no oxygen and will begin to die. This process happens over days to months. During this time the fibroid shrinks by about 40 to 50 percent and the uterus by about 30 to 40 percent. Our experience and the scientific literature suggest that symptoms will improve in 80 to 90 percent of patients. For some, UAE is ineffective. Serious complications occur in less then four percent of patients.
Read more about uterine artery embolization.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.