Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are a common type of noncancerous tumor that can grow in and on your uterus. Not all fibroids cause symptoms, but when they do, symptoms can include heavy menstrual bleeding, back pain, frequent urination and pain during sex. Small fibroids often don’t need treatment, but larger fibroids can be treated with medications or surgery.


Uterus showing the four types of fibroids and where they can develop.
Uterine fibroids are growths made up of muscle and connective tissue. Symptoms can include heavy menstrual bleeding, back pain, frequent urination and pain during sex.

What are uterine fibroids?

Uterine fibroids (also called leiomyomas) are growths made of muscle and tissue that form in or on the wall of your uterus. These growths are usually not cancerous (benign) and are the most common noncancerous tumor in women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB).

Uterine fibroids can cause a variety of symptoms like pain and heavy, irregular vaginal bleeding. Sometimes, a person has no symptoms and is unaware they have fibroids. Treatment for fibroids typically depends on your symptoms.

Where do fibroids grow?

Fibroids can grow as a single nodule (one growth) or in a cluster. Clusters of fibroids can range in size from 1 millimeter to more than 20 centimeters (8 inches) in diameter or even larger. For comparison, fibroids can be as small as a seed or get as large as a watermelon. These growths can develop within the wall of your uterus, inside the main cavity of your uterus or on the outer surface of your uterus.

Types of uterine fibroids

There are different types of uterine fibroids depending on where they’re located and how they attach. Specific types of uterine fibroids include:

  • Intramural fibroids: These fibroids are embedded into the muscular wall of your uterus. They’re the most common type.
  • Submucosal fibroids: These fibroids grow under the inner lining of your uterus.
  • Subserosal fibroids: This type of fibroid grows under the lining of the outer surface of your uterus. They can become quite large and grow into your pelvis.
  • Pedunculated fibroids: The least common type, these fibroids attach to your uterus with a stalk or stem. They’re often described as mushroom-like because they have a stalk and then a wider top.

Are fibroids common?

Fibroids are a very common type of growth. Approximately 40% to 80% of people with a uterus have fibroids. They occur most often in people between 30 and 50 years old. People who haven’t had their first period (menstruation) yet typically don’t have fibroids. They’re also less common in people who’ve entered menopause.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are uterine fibroids and what are the risk factors?

What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?

Most small fibroids don’t cause any symptoms and don’t require treatment other than regular observation by your healthcare provider. Larger fibroids can cause you to experience a variety of symptoms, including:

The symptoms of uterine fibroids usually stabilize or go away after you’ve gone through menopause because hormone levels decline within your body.

What does uterine fibroid pain feel like?

There are a variety of feelings you might experience if you have fibroids. If you have small fibroids, you may feel nothing at all and not even notice they’re there. For larger fibroids, however, you can experience discomfort and pain. Fibroids can cause you to feel back pain, stabbing pains in your abdomen and even pain during sex.

What do fibroids look like?

Fibroids are typically rounded growths that look like smooth bumps. In some cases, they can be attached with a thin stem, giving them a mushroom-like appearance.

What causes uterine fibroids?

The exact cause is unknown, but healthcare providers believe the hormones estrogen and progesterone play a role. Most fibroids happen in people of reproductive age. Studies show that fibroids tend to grow when hormone levels are higher (like during pregnancy) and shrink when hormone levels are low (like during the transition to menopause).

What are risk factors for uterine fibroids?

There are several risk factors that can play a role in your chances of developing fibroids. These can include:


What are the complications of uterine fibroids?

Most uterine fibroids don’t cause serious complications. However, the most common complications of fibroids are:

  • Pain that becomes unmanageable.
  • Swelling of your abdomen or pelvic area.
  • Excessive bleeding.
  • Anemia.
  • Infertility (this is rare).

Can fibroids cause anemia?

Anemia is a condition that happens when your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs. Anemia can happen to people who have frequent or extremely heavy periods. Fibroids can cause your periods to be very heavy or for you to even bleed between periods. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing symptoms of anemia while you have fibroids.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are uterine fibroids diagnosed?

In many cases, a healthcare provider discovers uterine fibroids during a pelvic exam. Quite often, heavy bleeding and other related symptoms may alert your provider to consider fibroids as a part of the diagnosis. There are several tests that can be done to confirm fibroids and determine their size and location. These tests can include:

  • Ultrasonography: This noninvasive imaging test creates a picture of your internal organs with sound waves.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test creates detailed images of your internal organs by using magnets and radio waves.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan uses X-ray images to make a detailed image of your internal organs from several angles.
  • Hysteroscopy: During a hysteroscopy, your provider will use a device called a scope (a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end) to look at fibroids inside your uterus. The scope is passed through your vagina and cervix and then moved into your uterus.
  • Hysterosalpingography (HSG): This is a detailed X-ray where your provider injects contrast material and then takes X-rays of your uterus.
  • Sonohysterography: In this imaging test, your provider places a small catheter in your vagina and then injects saline into your uterus. This extra fluid helps to create a clearer image of your uterus than you would see during a standard ultrasound.
  • Laparoscopy: During this test, your provider will make a small cut (incision) in your lower abdomen. A thin and flexible tube with a camera on the end will be inserted to look closely at your internal organs.


Management and Treatment

How are uterine fibroids treated?

Treatment for uterine fibroids can vary depending on the size, number and location of the fibroids, as well as what symptoms they’re causing. If you aren’t experiencing any symptoms from your fibroids, you may not need treatment. Small fibroids can often be left alone. Some people never experience any symptoms or have any problems associated with fibroids. In these cases, your provider may recommend monitoring your fibroids with pelvic exams or ultrasounds.

If you’re experiencing symptoms from your fibroids — including anemia from excess bleeding, moderate to severe pain or urinary tract and bowel problems — you’ll need treatment to help. Your treatment plan will depend on a few factors, including:

  • How many fibroids you have.
  • The size of your fibroids.
  • Where your fibroids are located.
  • What symptoms you’re experiencing related to the fibroids.
  • Your desire to keep your uterus.

The best treatment option for you will also depend on your plans for pregnancy in the future. Talk to your healthcare provider about your fertility goals when discussing treatment options. Treatment options for uterine fibroids can include:


  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications: These medications help manage pain and discomfort caused by fibroids. OTC medications include acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Iron supplements: If you have anemia from excess bleeding, your provider may also suggest you take an iron supplement.
  • Birth control: Birth control can also help with symptoms of fibroids — specifically, heavy bleeding during and between periods and menstrual cramps. There are a variety of birth control options you can use, including oral contraceptive pills, rings, injections and intrauterine devices (IUDs).
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists: These medications work by shrinking fibroids. They’re sometimes used to shrink a fibroid before surgery, making it easier to remove the fibroid. However, these medications are temporary, and if you stop taking them, the fibroids can grow back.
  • Oral therapies: Elagolix is a new oral therapy to manage heavy uterine bleeding in people who haven’t experienced menopause with symptomatic uterine fibroids. It can be taken for up to 24 months. Talk to your provider about the pros and cons of this therapy. Another oral therapy, tranexamic acid, treats heavy menstrual bleeding in people with uterine fibroids.

It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about any medication you take. Always consult your provider before starting a new medication to discuss any possible complications.

Fibroid surgery

There are several factors to consider when talking about the different types of surgery for fibroid removal. Not only can the size, location and number of fibroids influence the type of surgery, but your wishes for future pregnancies can also be an important factor when developing a treatment plan. Some surgical options preserve your uterus and allow you to become pregnant in the future, while other options can either damage or remove your uterus.

Myomectomy is a procedure that allows your provider to remove the fibroids. There are several types of myomectomy. The type of procedure that may work best for you will depend on where your fibroids are located, how big they are and how many you have. The types of myomectomy procedures to remove fibroids can include:

  • Hysteroscopy: Your provider inserts a scope (a thin, flexible, tube-like tool) through your vagina and cervix and into your uterus. Your provider uses the scope to cut away and remove the fibroids.
  • Laparoscopy: In this procedure, your provider will use a scope to remove the fibroids. Unlike hysteroscopy, this procedure involves placing a few small incisions in your abdomen. This is how the scope will enter and exit your body.
  • Laparotomy: During this procedure, your provider makes one larger incision in your abdomen and removes the fibroids through this one cut.

If you aren’t planning future pregnancies, there are additional options your healthcare provider may recommend. These options can be very effective, but they typically prevent future pregnancies. These can include:

  • Hysterectomy: Your provider removes your uterus during a hysterectomy. A hysterectomy is the only way to cure fibroids. By removing your uterus completely, the fibroids can’t come back and your symptoms should go away. If your ovaries are left in place, you won’t go into menopause after a hysterectomy. This procedure might be recommended if you’re experiencing very heavy bleeding from your fibroids or if you have large fibroids. Minimally invasive hysterectomies include vaginal, laparoscopic or robotic methods.
  • Uterine fibroid embolization: An interventional radiologist performs this procedure with the help of your gynecologist. They put a small catheter in your uterine artery or radial artery and inject small particles, which then block the flow of blood from the artery to the fibroids. Loss of blood flow shrinks the fibroids and improves your symptoms. This procedure may not be right for everyone.
  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA): This is a safe and effective treatment that uses microwave (RF) energy to treat uterine fibroids. It’s recommended for people who haven’t reached menopause. It treats smaller fibroids.

Risks to uterine fibroid treatment

There can be risks to any treatment. Medications can have side effects and some may not be a good fit for you. Talk to your healthcare provider about all medications you may be taking for other medical conditions and your complete medical history before starting a new medication. If you experience side effects after starting a new medication, call your provider to discuss your options.

There are also risks involved in surgical treatment of fibroids. Any surgery places you at risk of infection and bleeding, and includes risks associated with anesthesia. An additional risk of fibroid removal surgery can involve future pregnancies. Some surgical options can prevent future pregnancies. Myomectomy is a procedure that only removes the fibroids, allowing for future pregnancies. However, people who’ve had a myomectomy may need to deliver future babies via C-section.

How large do uterine fibroids need to be before being surgically removed?

There isn’t a definitive size of a fibroid that would automatically mean it needs to be removed. Your healthcare provider will determine if surgery is necessary based on your symptoms. For example, fibroids the size of a small marble may still cause excessive bleeding depending on their location. Your healthcare provider can discuss symptoms that might require surgical intervention.

What happens if fibroids go untreated?

If you don’t have symptoms, treatment for fibroids may not be necessary. If you have large fibroids or your symptoms are causing you pain and discomfort, getting treatment may be the best option. Only you and your provider can decide the best course of treatment or if treatment is necessary.


Can fibroids be prevented?

In general, you can’t prevent fibroids. You can reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy body weight and getting regular pelvic exams. If you have small fibroids, develop a plan with your healthcare provider to monitor them.

Outlook / Prognosis

Can I get pregnant if I have uterine fibroids?

Yes, you can get pregnant if you have uterine fibroids. If you already know you have fibroids when you get pregnant, your healthcare provider will work with you to develop a monitoring plan for the fibroids. During pregnancy, your body releases elevated levels of hormones. These hormones support the pregnancy. However, they can also cause your fibroids to get bigger. Large fibroids can cause the following problems during pregnancy:

Can fibroids change over time?

Fibroids can actually shrink or grow over time. They can change size suddenly or steadily over a long period of time. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but in most cases, this change in fibroid size is linked to the amount of hormones in your body. When you have high levels of hormones in your body, fibroids can get bigger. This can happen at specific times in your life, like during pregnancy. Fibroids can also shrink when your hormone levels drop. This is common after menopause. Often, your symptoms can also get better after menopause.

Will fibroids go away on their own?

Fibroids can shrink in some people after menopause. This happens because of a decrease in hormones. When the fibroids shrink, your symptoms may go away. Small fibroids may not need treatment if they aren’t causing any symptoms.

Do fibroids make you tired?

Feeling tired isn’t a common symptom of uterine fibroids. However, it’s a common symptom of anemia, which can occur when you lose too much blood. Talk to a healthcare provider if you feel excessively tired so they can determine the cause.

Do fibroids make your stomach big?

Yes, it’s possible that large uterine fibroids can cause your stomach to bloat or appear larger.

Living With

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of uterine fibroids, such as:

  • Heavy and irregular vaginal bleeding.
  • Bleeding between periods.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Pain during sex.
  • A feeling of pressure or fullness in your belly.

Because these symptoms are common symptoms of other gynecological conditions, discussing them with a healthcare provider is important.

Additional Common Questions

Are fibroids cancer?

It’s extremely rare for a fibroid to go through changes that transform it into a cancerous (malignant) tumor. In fact, 1 out of 350 people with fibroids will develop cancer. There’s no test that’s 100% predictive in detecting rare fibroid-related cancers. However, people who have rapid growth of uterine fibroids or fibroids that grow after menopause should be evaluated immediately.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Uterine fibroids are a common condition that many people experience during their lives. In some cases, fibroids are small and don’t cause any symptoms at all. Other times, fibroids can cause challenging symptoms like pain and heavy vaginal bleeding. Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience any kind of discomfort or pain. Fibroids are treatable.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/05/2023.

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