Menstrual periods often come with side effects such as acne, cramps and mood changes. But if you're experiencing:
- Excessive bleeding
- Bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain
- Frequent bloating
- Urinating often
- Pain during sex
- Back pain
—you could be suffering from uterine fibroids.
According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 80 percent of women will develop uterine fibroids by the age of 50. Not all women with fibroids have symptoms; however, those who have symptoms often find themselves in a lot of discomfort from pain or pressure.
What are uterine fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that can grow from the muscle tissue of the uterus on the outer surface or within its wall.
While it is unknown as to what causes them, it is believed that estrogen and progesterone hormones play a large part in their development. African American women are at a higher risk, and if you have a family history of fibroids, your chance of developing them could also increase.
Fibroids can cause pain in the abdomen or lower back, pressure from cramps, or make bowel movements difficult, and can even lead to anemia from blood loss. In some cases, they can be large enough to cause swelling of the abdomen and can make it difficult to become pregnant, though many women are able to become pregnant after they are treated.
More common in women ages 30-40, uterine fibroids can develop at any age and can be diagnosed during a routine pelvic exam and with imaging tests.
What are the treatment options?
Consult with your OB/GYN on your symptoms to figure out the best course of action. Medication will often be the first line of treatment, but if that doesn’t work, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) with an interventional radiologist may be an option.
“UFE is a minimally invasive procedure that uses imaging to guide a thin tube in the blood vessels that supply blood to the fibroid,” says Michael Bergen, M.D., an interventional radiologist at Carilion Clinic and assistant professor at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
“The procedure involves decreasing blood flow to the fibroids, which cause them to shrink and eventually become nothing more than a scar in the uterus.”
It's an outpatient procedure that leaves minimal scarring, preserves the uterus, and patients can typically resume going back to work or normal everyday activity within seven days. For more serious cases, myomectomy or hysterectomy surgery may be the only option.
It can be difficult to recognize if something that’s regular to you is actually irregular. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you’re experiencing heavy, irregular periods with severe abdominal cramping. You can also schedule a consultation with a Carilion Clinic interventional radiologist without a referral; however, insurance policies on referrals vary, so check on your coverage first.
Even if you're not experiencing these symptoms, make sure to continue getting your yearly pelvic exam!