Approximately 75 percent of women will develop uterine fibroids during or after her childbearing years.  Most will never know they have them.   Sometimes, however, uterine fibroids become troublemakers - causing pain, bleeding and rarely, infertility.  So, how do you know if you have them? 

Fibroids are non-cancerous muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus.  They almost never turn into cancer though they can grow quite large.  Size varies from "too small to notice" to as big as a grapefruit.  It's not uncommon for women to have several fibroids. 

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Women's Health Division, fibroids are most commonly found in women 40 to 50 years of age. They're more common in African American women, women whose mother or sisters have fibroids, obese women and women whose diet is heavy on red meat and ham. 

Not all women with fibroids have symptoms. Women who do, often find fibroids hard to live with. Five symptoms of uterine fibroids include

1) Pain. Though fibroids themselves are not usually painful, the pressure they place on surrounding tissues and/or the displacement of other organs, can be painful.  Some women experience more menstrual cramping due to fibroids. According to the Mayo Clinic, fibroids can become painful if they outgrow their blood supply or become twisted. 

2) Heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding. Fibroids contain blood vessels that can bleed with or without a period.  They can also put pressure on uterine blood vessels and increase the uteruses surface area, causing profuse or prolonged bleeding with menstruation. Heavy bleeding can sometimes lead to anemia.

3) Bladder and/or rectal pain and pressure. Fibroids can get so large or be located in areas that press on the bladder or rectum.  Some women feel the need to urinate frequently (as the fibroid takes up space the bladder needs to fill properly) or have pain with urination.

4) Pain during sex. Fibroids can get bumped or irritated during intercourse or be pushed against surrounding tissues.

5) Abdominal swelling.  When fibroids get very large, they can make women appear to be pregnant.

How are fibroids diagnosed?  Your gynecologist may feel them during a routine pelvic exam or find them with ultrasound, MRI or other diagnostic imaging techniques.

Can they be treated?  Yes, there are many treatments ranging from hormonal to surgical that can shrink or remove fibroids or make them more comfortable to live with.  Sometimes, they go away by themselves.  This is more common after menopause when fibroids are deprived of hormone supplies. Talk to your gynecologist about possible treatment options.