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A uterine fibroid (known medically as a leiomyoma or myoma) is a noncancerous (benign) growth of smooth muscle and connective tissue. Fibroids can range in size from as small as a pinhead to larger than a melon. Fibroids have been reported weighing more than 40 pounds.
Fibroids originate from the thick wall of the uterus and are categorized by where they grow:
- Intramural fibroids. Grow within the middle and thickest layer of the uterus (called the myometrium).
- Subserosal fibroids. Grow out from the thin outer fibrous layer of the uterus (called the serosa). Subserosal can be either stalk-like (pedunculated) or broad-based (sessile).
- Submucosal fibroids. Grow from the uterine wall toward and into the inner lining of the uterus (the endometrium). Submucosal fibroids can also be stalk-like or broad-based.
Fibroid tumors may not need to be removed if they are not causing pain, bleeding excessively, or growing rapidly.
The Female Reproductive System
The primary structures in the reproductive system include:
- The uterus is a pear-shaped organ located between the bladder and lower intestine. It consists of two parts, the body and the cervix.
- When a woman is not pregnant the body of the uterus is about the size of a fist, with its walls pressed against each other. During pregnancy the walls of the uterus are pushed apart as the fetus grows.
- The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus. It has a canal opening into the vagina with an opening called the os, which allows menstrual blood to flow out of the uterus into the vagina. It is the os that dilates allowing birth of a child.
- Leading off each side of the body of the uterus are two tubes known as the fallopian tubes. Near the end of each tube is an ovary.
- Ovaries are egg-producing organs that hold 200,000 to 400,000 follicles (from folliculus, meaning “sack” in Latin). These cellular sacks contain the materials needed to produce ripened eggs, or ova.
The inner lining of the uterus is called the endometrium. During pregnancy this inner lining thickens and becomes enriched with blood vessels to house and support the growing fetus. If pregnancy does not occur, the endometrium is shed as part of the menstrual flow. Menstrual flow also consists of blood and mucus from the cervix and vagina.
The hypothalamus (an area in the brain) and the pituitary gland regulate the reproductive hormones. The pituitary gland is often referred to as the master gland because of its important role in many vital functions, many of which require hormones.
In women, six key hormones serve as chemical messengers that regulate the reproductive system:
- The hypothalamus first releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH).
- This chemical, in turn, stimulates the pituitary gland to produce follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
- Estrogen, progesterone, and the male hormone testosterone are secreted by the ovaries at the command of FSH and LH and complete the hormonal group necessary for reproductive health.
It is not clear what causes fibroids, but estrogen and progesterone appear to play a major role in their growth. Fibroids tend to shrink after menopause, when estrogen levels decline.
Click the icon to see an image of a uturus.Click the icon to see an image of the pituitary gland.Click the icon to see an image of the hypothalamus.