Fibroids are usually found during a routine gynecolgic visit when a doctor conducts a pelvic exam to feel the size and shape of the uterus. If the doctor finds that the uterus is enlarged or irregularly shaped, or if the patient notices symptoms and informs their doctor, a test is conducted to confirm diagnosis.
How Are Uterine Fibroids Diagnosed?
The most common diagnostic test is the ultrasound (or sonograph), a painless radiation-free imaging technique. Conducting gel is applied to the abdomen and a hand-held tranducer is moved across the skin capturing a picture of the uterus using sound waves. Ultrasound tests are painless and take between 30-60 minutes. Women should hold a full bladder during the procedure.
Other Internal Imaging Tests
Sometimes, a second test may be performed to produce a more detailed image of the uterus, whereby close-up pictures are taken of the uterus using a probe that is inserted into the vagina. These internal imaging tests require more invasive entry into the uterine cavity through the cervix:
- Hysteroscopy uses a hysteroscope (a long, slender and flexible telescope), which is inserted through the cervix and into the uterine cavity.
- Saline Hysterosonography is another internal imagining method, whereby sterile saline fluid or CO2 gas is introduced through a catheter in order to inflate the uterine cavity for better soundimaging.
These procedures take up to 30 minutes to complete. Women may experience mild cramps during these tests, which can be alleviated by taking over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprufen (Advil, Motrin), one hour before the test.
Magnetic Resonance (MR)
Magnetic resonance (MR) is an imaging method that uses a magnet to produce a detailed image of fibroid size(s) and location within the uterus. Prior to lying down on a special scanning bed, the patient is hooked up to an intravenous (IV) drip into which contrast fluid is injected. The bed then moves through a doughnut-shaped magnet, which picks up the fluid in the body in order to produce an image of the pelvic area. MRI tests take between 45-60 minutes.
Computer Tomography (CT)
Computer tomography (CT) scanning is conducted similar to the MRI test (using a scanning bed), with the main difference being that CT scans use x-ray radiation to produce an image of the uterus rather than a magnet and injection of a contrast medium.