As a woman, you experience a lot of changes in your body. From menstrual cycles to menopause, pain and bleeding can start to feel like the norm.
But if your periods are overly heavy and painful or you’re bleeding between periods, it might be time to talk with your doctor about uterine fibroids.
Sourcing out the symptoms
“Uterine fibroids are benign collections of uterine muscle,” says Dr. Steven Crawford, MD, medical director of the Women’s service line at Kettering Health Network.
These ball-shaped growths are rarely cancerous. In many cases, treatment isn’t required for uterine fibroids, as many women experience them without any symptoms.
“99.9% of uterine fibroids are benign,” says Dr. Crawford. “As long as there’s no heavy bleeding or pain, it’s acceptable not to have the fibroids removed.”
However, Dr. Crawford says there are three main cases in which a woman may seek treatment for the condition.
“We remove uterine fibroids for patients that experience heavy bleeding, have pain or discomfort, or wish to become pregnant.”
Because these fibroids can grow to be quite large, they can lead to pre-term labor in pregnant women.
“Pregnancy can be more difficult for women with uterine fibroids,” Dr. Crawford says. “If you have a woman who is 28 weeks pregnant, large fibroids may cause her uterus to be almost the size of a full-term pregnancy. With the uterus being so big, the muscle itself starts contracting, causing pre-term labor.”
Whether you’re looking to lessen your symptoms or do what you can to ensure a safe and timely delivery, your doctor may suggest a couple of different treatment options.
Specifically, for women concerned about heavy bleeding, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) may be a solution. UFE is performed by a radiologist who accesses one of the main arteries with a catheter and guides it to the fibroid.
From there, the radiologist places a blockage in the artery to cut off the blood supply to the fibroid. This may help stop bleeding and shrink the fibroids.
UFE is an effective treatment, but not recommended for women who wish to become pregnant in the future. Those women may have the best success with a myomectomy—an operation to remove the fibroids while still preserving the uterus.
Many physicians perform open myomectomies, which is a viable but more invasive option. Dr. Crawford uses a robot-guided laparoscopic approach, requiring a smaller incision and shorter recovery time.
“We make one small incision very low on the abdomen or belly button and pull the fibroid out in pieces through one incision,” Dr. Crawford says.
With this type of surgery, women will experience less scarring for a more aesthetically pleasing result.