Up to 70% of all women will be affected by uterine fibroids in their lifetime. This number is even higher in women of color. Therefore, it is hard to believe that so many women have never heard of them. Today, we are going to tell you about one woman’s fibroid story. We are going to outline the facts of her experience, and also provide some information that we hope the women who read this blog post will find helpful if they find themselves in a similar situation.
First, to set the stage, we are going to provide a brief overview of uterine fibroids for those who may be unfamiliar.
Just What Is A Uterine Fibroid?
Uterine fibroids are benign growths that form in and on the uterus. They begin most frequently when a woman is of childbearing age, but they can also affect older women.
Statistics estimate that uterine fibroids affect more than 27 million American women, and more than half of these women suffer debilitating symptoms. (heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain, pressure, issues with their bladder, back pain, fertility problems, and more).
Some will never have symptoms, so they may not even realize they have them.
What Makes A Uterine Fibroid Form?
No one really knows what causes fibroids to develop in the first place, but once they arrive they grow with hormonal stimulation (particularly estrogen).
Women of color are more prone to developing fibroids than Caucasian women, and their fibroids generally form at an earlier age, are usually more plentiful, and tend to grow larger. Because of this, these women experience symptoms that are more intense, which means they are referred to surgical solutions more often.
- Genetics can play a role in determining whether a woman is at risk for uterine fibroids. If the older women in your family experienced fibroids, you need to be aware that you are more likely to develop them too.
- Fibroids respond to estrogen, so women who have excess estrogen tend to be more likely to develop fibroids and have higher instances of large fibroids.
- Excess estrogen levels can be caused by starting your period at a younger age, being overweight, or using products or eating foods that contain ingredients that are similar in molecular structure to our natural estrogen. Once these estrogen imposters enter our bodies, they latch onto our natural receptors and throw everything off course.
Uterine Fibroid Symptoms Can Affect Your Quality Of Life
Oftentimes, women who experience symptoms of uterine fibroids do not realize that what they are going through is not normal. Unfortunately, this is mainly due to the lack of information provided to young women about what a normal menstrual period is supposed to be like. Also, just because you have been bleeding heavily for a long time does not make that normal.
Fibroids can cause serious cramping, heavy bleeding that is hard to contain, bleeding that lasts longer than it is supposed to, bleeding between periods, pelvic pain, pain during sex, and infertility issues, as well as other chronic symptoms.
One celebrity recounted a fibroid story of being at a fancy dinner and bleeding through her feminine protection so quickly that she was unable to get up and leave the room. She had to come up with a strategy to partially cover herself while making her way out to avoid serious embarrassment.
Many women are in so much pain and distress that they are unable to fulfill their work or social obligations at all. Such is the case with our friend, whom we will call Meg, and whose fibroid story we are about to tell.
A Real Woman’s Fibroid Story
Now that you have a basic understanding of uterine fibroids, you will have a better understanding of what Meg was dealing with. Even though this story is about Meg, many women have experienced similar circumstances. We hear these stories every day in the office at the Atlanta Fibroid Center.
Meg and Her Belated Diagnosis of Uterine Fibroids
When Meg was in her late 20s, she started experiencing symptoms of a urinary tract infection without a positive urine test despite no changes in her routine or sexual partner. She urinated more frequently and had to get up several times each night to urinate. Despite being treated for these intermittent “infections”, no root cause was determined. The interrupted sleep interfered with her ability to be her job performance at work.
During that same time frame, she was also dealing with pain and heavy bleeding during her periods. As these symptoms began to worsen, she noticed that her belly felt hard where her uterus was, so she sought help from her OB-GYN.
Her doctor told her she had numerous fibroids growing in her uterus and that it was stretched to about the same size as if she were 10 weeks pregnant. This explained why she felt so bloated and why she was experiencing heavy bleeding, pain, and increased urinary frequency.
Trials and Errors in Meg’s Treatment
Meg was a successful woman with a career that was beginning to expand, and she desired to find some relief. She underwent a procedure called endometrial ablation.
At this juncture, we would like to stop and point out a few key points about the endometrial ablation procedure.
- Endometrial ablation does not affect fibroids in any way. It does not shrink them, kill them, or stop them from growing larger.
- This procedure completely destroys the lining of the uterus, and therefore, cannot be performed on any patient that desires fertility.
- The only positive aspect is that it can help with heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Did they tell her these facts?
- What might have been different if she had known?
- What options for fibroid treatment was she presented with?
Meg did get some relief from the heavy bleeding she had been experiencing, but less than two years later, things were worse.
She was in terrible pain, and the bloating was even worse than it was before the ablation. Another visit with the OB-GYN revealed a uterus resembling that of a woman who was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and now there were more than twice as many fibroids as before. This time she underwent a myomectomy, which is a surgical operation to remove some of the larger fibroids in the uterus.
With numerous fibroids, as Meg had (and most women have too) the surgeon cannot remove all the fibroids and still leave the woman with an intact uterus. Every woman undergoing a myomectomy has to understand that they may end up with a hysterectomy due to intraoperative bleeding or the surgeon’s inability to reconstruct the uterus once a fibroid is surgically removed. Therefore, every myomectomy patient has to sign a medical release attesting to this fact before they undergo a myomectomy.
Another important fact to keep in mind is that once the uterus is surgically operated on with a myomectomy, that woman will no longer be able to have a vaginal birth. These women if they become pregnant and carry to term, will all be delivered by C-section due to fear of uterine rupture from the weakness in the uterine wall caused by the previous myomectomy.
Almost all women who have undergone successful myomectomy will wake up with living fibroids in their uterus, i.e. all of the fibroids were not removed! These fibroids begin to grow immediately and it explains why Meg’s symptoms returned so quickly. The recurrence rate for myomectomy is 11% PER YEAR!
- Did they tell her that they may not be able to get all the fibroids?
- Did they tell her she might need another surgery down the road?
- Did they tell her about Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE ) a nonsurgical, outpatient procedure that treats ALL of the fibroids and not just some of them?
- What might be different if she had been informed by her doctor of all of her treatment options and not just the surgical ones?
What Would Meg Have Done Differently?
We invite you to view this testimonial from one of our patients talking about her experience with undergoing five different myomectomy surgeries to treat her recurrent fibroid issue. She then found The Atlanta Fibroid Center, which offered her another option for treatment that was successful called UFE.
Performing uterine ablation for fibroid-related symptoms is not a good treatment option. While it can help with the bleeding symptoms, it does nothing for the bulk-related symptoms that often accompany the bleeding, and it does not treat the underlying cause of the symptoms, i.e. the fibroids! A myomectomy is an option to treat fibroids but it is surgical, risks hysterectomy, and in Meg’s case (and many other women too) there are more fibroids left behind in the uterus than were surgically removed which leads to an early recurrence of fibroid symptoms as Meg saw.
- Was she offered other options for treatment?
- What might be different if she had known about Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)?
What Every Fibroid Patient Should Know
Getting A Fibroid Diagnosis Done Properly
Most women first hear the word fibroid from their OB-GYN during a routine pelvic exam. Sometimes the doctors can feel them during the exam, and then they are often confirmed through ultrasound imaging.
Ultrasound can diagnose fibroids but has a much lower resolution than Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Pelvic ultrasound also suffers from being operator dependent, i.e. the technologist performing the exam, and the sound waves used to create the images are significantly affected by body habitus and bowel gas. MRI is a much more accurate way to determine the size, location, and number of fibroids a woman may be suffering from, and does not have the aforementioned limitations that ultrasound has.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)
Most patients who are diagnosed with fibroid tumors are never offered the option of UFE (uterine fibroid embolization). The biggest reason is that an ob-gyn does not perform this procedure; it is done by a board-certified interventional radiologist which is a different type of medical physician.
UFE has been available for the past 25 years and was recognized by the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) as a safe and effective treatment over 15 years ago. Besides being uninformed, for those that are told about UFE, many of them are told incorrect things about UFE.
One of the biggest misconceptions was that you couldn’t get pregnant after UFE, but this is completely untrue. In fact, the fertility rate after UFE is every bit as good as after a myomectomy. Studies have shown that 60% of patients that wanted children got children after UFE. This is outstanding given the fact that UFE patients tend to be older (35-45 years of age) than typical fertility patients and therefore have lower fertility to start with. Also, these women have often had other gynecological procedures (e.g. myomectomy, D&C) prior to UFE which also diminishes their fertility.
UFE is an outpatient, nonsurgical procedure. It is performed as an outpatient procedure and takes about 30-40 minutes when done by an expert. Patients are discharged after a short observation period to go home and recover comfortably without having to spend any time in a hospital.
Fibroids require a source of blood flow to survive and grow. During the UFE procedure, tiny particles are flow directed into the small, peripheral arterial branches that supply the fibroids. Without a blood supply, the fibroids will die. As they die, they soften and shrink. As this occurs over the coming days to weeks, a woman’s symptoms begin to disappear.
UFE treats ALL of the fibroids in the uterus no matter how big, how small, how numerous, or how deeply embedded in the uterine wall they are. It eliminates these fibroids forever without surgically cutting on the uterus (myomectomy) or completely removing it (hysterectomy). Most patients are back to their normal routine in less than a week, compared with the eight-week recovery necessary after a typical myomectomy or hysterectomy.
Women Should Know Their Options
Research on fibroids is moving forward, and Dr. Lipman and the Atlanta Fibroid Center have been instrumental in fostering this initiative.
As more women take to social media to share their stories about UFE, women with fibroids are learning that they have options other than surgery.
UFE has a 90% success rate and is covered by most insurance plans. It has significantly fewer risks or complications than a surgical approach, preserves fertility, and should be considered a first-line treatment for serious symptoms associated with uterine fibroids.
Meg was never made aware of UFE and we don’t know what she would have chosen if presented with the option. However, what we do know was that she was entitled to know all of her treatment options, and her physician (like most doctors) is abandoning their responsibility to these patients by not informing them of UFE. What we do know in this case is:
- She would not have needed the ablation procedure that irreparably damaged her uterine lining.
- The possibility of a safe, full-term pregnancy would still be available to her if this is something she wanted in the future.
- She would not have needed to undergo the lengthy 3+ hour surgical procedure that left her with numerous fibroids still inside her uterus.
- She would not have had to endure a long six-month recovery following her myomectomy.
- If she underwent UFE, she likely would have received complete relief from the symptoms she was looking for without undergoing any additional procedures to treat her fibroids.
If you or a loved one are suffering from symptoms from uterine fibroids, we urge you to come and speak to Dr. Lipman or Dr. Ermentrout from The Atlanta Fibroid Center. Their expertise is unparalleled in treating women with uterine fibroids and adenomyosis. You owe it to yourself to eliminate fibroids and the symptoms that are interfering with your quality of life.
The Atlanta Fibroid Center is here to help. Contact us and set up a consultation today. We promise you will be glad you did!