What are Symptomatic Uterine Fibroids?

Submitted by Dr. Victor Lewis on December 14, 2018

It’s something most women don’t like to talk about. It’s embarrassing and can be life altering. But having a heavy, painful menstrual cycle is something worth opening up about‒at least with your doctor.

If you are experiencing uncomfortable periods that are accompanied by back or severe abdominal pain, you may have symptomatic uterine fibroids. Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterus. They are the most common type of tumor within the female reproductive system.

Woman looking up uterine fibroid information online

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, up to 80 percent of women may have a fibroid by the time they reach age 50. The majority of these women have no symptoms at all, and treatment is probably unnecessary.

But for those suffering with symptoms, which can range from the uncomfortable, heavy cycles mentioned above to frequent urination, infertility and painful intercourse, there are options. You don’t have to suffer in silence.

What Treatment is Available for Uterine Fibroids?

If your doctor determines that you have fibroid tumors, you may be a candidate for uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). UFE is a highly successful minimally invasive procedure. The procedure works by limiting blood flow to fibroid tumors, thus destroying them. It is a good choice for women wishing to preserve their uterus.

Until recently, there were only a few options for uterine fibroid treatment, including hysterectomy, surgery to remove the uterus, or myomectomy, which is surgery to remove the fibroids. While these procedures are effective treatments for uterine fibroids, they are also more invasive and risky than UFE, and recovery can take months. However, you should always talk to your physician about the right treatment option for you.

Most UFE patients have relatively mild discomfort, are released from the hospital after an overnight stay and are back to their routines in as little as one week.

What Happens During a UFE?

During the procedure, patients are given a sedation medication. A catheter, or small tube, is inserted into an artery at the top of their groin and guided to the uterus by X-ray imaging. Small particles are then injected through the catheter and into the blood vessels that feed the fibroids, blocking the blood flow to these painful tumors.

Do Uterine Fibroids Go Away Naturally?

We do not know what causes uterine fibroids, but we do know they are impacted by estrogen and progesterone levels and are genetic. They are also typically non-cancerous, as less than one in 1,000 will grow into cancer. Fibroids become more common as women age, particularly during their 30s and 40s and through menopause. After menopause, these tumors usually shrink along with their symptoms. Uterine fibroids affect women of every race, though African-American women are especially susceptible to developing fibroids. Women who are considered obese are also at an increased risk.

If even thinking about your cycle brings you misery, it doesn’t have to. Help is available. Confide in your doctor about your discomfort. He or she can help you to work through your menstrual health concerns.

Dr. Victor Lewis is a board certified radiologist. the Medical Director of the Uterine Fibroid Embolization Center at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.