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What are Uterine Fibroids?

Fibroids are firm, dense tumors made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. They develop in the uterus. Somewhere between 20 and 50 percent of reproductive-age women have fibroids, but not all are diagnosed. Only about one-third of these fibroids are large enough to be found by a healthcare provider during a physical exam.

What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?

Some women who have fibroids have no symptoms, or they have only mild symptoms. Other women have more severe symptoms. These are the most common symptoms for uterine fibroids:

  • Heavy or lengthy periods
  • Abnormal bleeding between periods
  • Pelvic pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Low back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • A firm mass often near the middle of the pelvis. This can be felt by your healthcare provider.

Treating Fibroids

Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)

UFE is a revolutionary, minimally invasive procedure with a 95 percent success rate. Embolization has replaced hysterectomy as the treatment of choice for many women with fibroids. Fibroid embolization is available at all Inova hospitals.

During embolization, an interventional radiologist makes a small incision in the skin and inserts a thin tube (catheter) into the main artery of the thigh. The doctor guides the catheter into the uterine artery. Tiny grains of plastic or gelatin are pumped through the catheter into the uterine artery where they block the blood supply to the fibroids. Once the fibroids' blood supply is blocked, they shrink and die.

Inova Alexandria Hospital Fibroid Program is one of the largest, most successful UFE programs in the country. Their physicians were among the first in the mid-Atlantic to perform the procedure.

Other treatment options for fibroids include:

  • Myomectomy, which removes only the fibroids, not the uterus. This surgery is performed using a hysteroscope (a small scope inserted through the vagina and cervix), a laparoscope (a scope inserted through small incisions in the abdomen), or abdominal surgery (requiring incisions through the abdomen and the uterus).
  • Hysterectomy removes the entire uterus either by a laparoscopic procedure through the vagina, or by an open surgical procedure. Uterine fibroids are the most common cause of hysterectomy in the country. Learn more about Inova's options for minimally invasive hysterectomy

Ask the Expert lecture on minimally invasive uterine fibroid treatment – with Dr. Arina van Breda