Uterine fibroid symptoms can be debilitating, yet many women don’t seek treatment and are unaware that there are minimally invasive options available.
Uterine fibroids often do not receive the attention they deserve from women who suffer from debilitating symptoms month after month. While most people seek out medical treatment for other painful or intrusive symptoms, women wait on average 4 years before seeking treatment for their symptoms of fibroids.2
The question is why? And how can people be encouraged to seek medical treatment for a condition that can be so painful the sufferer cannot continue with her daily activities?
The problem does not come from uterine fibroids being rare and, therefore, unknown. These noncancerous tumors in the uterus occur in about 80 percent of all women.1
Nor does it come from fibroid symptoms being subtle and easily ignored. While some fibroids do not cause symptoms, other women experience intense pain. Symptoms can include heavy menstruation, pelvic pain, anemia, pelvic pressure, infertility, or incontinence. Sometimes, symptoms are so bad that the woman cannot work, experiences pain during sex, and/or needs to withdraw from a normal, active life.
Fibroid symptoms develop over time
For some women, the reason they fail to seek attention for their fibroid symptoms has to do with how those symptoms develop over time. Fibroids tend to be very different from woman to woman. They can grow in different places and different sizes, and fibroid symptoms often resurface gradually, making it difficult for women to identify when their pain has crossed over from normal to abnormal.
“I never had period pain when I was younger,” Kellie, a Philanthropy Manager who resides in Atlanta, Ga., explains. “For a long time, I rationalized that maybe everybody gets cramps at some point. I guess this is just my turn. That was what I told myself as it got progressively worse.”
One study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine in Chicago, Ill., identified other potential reasons women may wait to seek treatment for fibroid symptoms.
This study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, interviewed 60 ethnically diverse women who either suffered from or who had just undergone treatment for large fibroids in the uterus.3 It sought to collect data that was sorely lacking in regards to why women often choose to wait to find answers to fibroid symptoms, even when those symptoms were quite severe.3
Extreme symptoms may be abnormal
One reason the study found was that many women did not realize that their symptoms were abnormal. If they did not know much about normal menstruation, or about the problems that fibroids could cause, they were more likely to chalk their symptoms up to normal period discomfort.
Other women, it was found, did know that their symptoms were abnormal. Yet, in order to deal with their pain, they would simply ignore their symptoms. In some cases, they did not seek treatment because they simply didn’t think they were at risk for developing fibroids.3
Since lack of knowledge about normal menstruation is a problem when it comes to women seeking help for fibroid symptoms, it is important to know what is normal.
While there can be variation among women when it comes to their periods, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sets ranges within which most women’s menstrual cycles should fall.
For example, average menstruation is 28 days, but a normal range is 21 to 35 days for adults and 21 to 45 days for teenagers.4 In addition, the normal length of the periods can be anywhere from 2 to 7 days, though 3 to 5 days is most typical.4
Women also need to be aware of when their bleeding and cramping are abnormal. Some cramping and bleeding is normal. However, very bad pain, very heavy bleeding, and bleeding that lasts outside the range of normal, all require medical attention.
In addition, if a woman is using more than 1 pad or tampon every couple of hours, her bleeding may be heavier than is typical and require attention. Other symptoms that require medical attention include bleeding in between periods and bleeding after sex.4
Fear is a factor in fibroid treatment
While misinformation can create barriers to medical treatment for women suffering from symptoms of fibroids, another powerful barrier is a fear of what a cure for fibroids in the uterus might entail.
One survey found that, out of more than 800 women suffering from fibroids, more than half feared that she would need a hysterectomy.2 When given the choice between fibroid pain and loss of fertility, many women choose the pain.
“My turning point was when I bled for one month straight,” recalls Carmen, a Registered Nurse in Atlanta, GA, who wasn’t involved in the study. And yet, Carmen refused to get medical treatment for her fibroids. “The help I received from medical professionals was—operate. Hysterectomy. That was it.”
Non-surgical fibroid treatment option helps many
Maria chose to research other options instead of undergoing fibroid surgery. She eventually discovered a uterine fibroid treatment option that does not involve removing the uterus. Called uterine fibroid embolization (or UFE), this minimally invasive procedure has a high success rate and a shorter recovery time than surgical options.
The only way for women to become more aware of their options, and more willing to approach their doctors about their fibroid pain, is for there to be greater education of women.
“There is a need for patient-centered and community-based education to improve women’s knowledge of fibroids and symptoms and to promote treatment options,” Dr. Marsh reports.3
When women begin to speak up about their symptoms, they become more aware that they may need medical treatment. And, they may become more educated about the uterine fibroids treatment options out there.
“There are a lot of women out there who are struggling with this and they don’t talk about it. They just suffer in silence,” Carmen says. “I hope that by doing this, I let other women know–there is an alternative—that you can have your life back.”
VIVA EVE can help fibroid sufferers
A VIVA EVE specialty is the uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) procedure. From consultation through treatment follow up, we are committed to providing high-quality, personalized care for every patient. We will partner with you to determine the best way to treat your problematic fibroids or adenomyosis.
Sources for information referenced in this post
- Stewart, E., Laughlin-Tommaso, S. (2016). UpToDate—Patient education: Uterine fibroids (Beyond the Basics). Retrieved October 31, 2016.
- Stewart, E., Nicholson, W., Bradley, L., & Borah, B. (2013). The burden of uterine fibroids for African-American women: results of a national survey. Journal of Women’s Health, 22(10): 807-816. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2013.4334.
- Ghant, M., Sengoba, K., Vogelzang, R., Lawson, A., & Marsh, E. (2016). An altered perception of normal: understanding causes for treatment delay in women with symptomatic uterine fibroids. Journal of Women’s Health, 25(8): 846-852. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2015.5531.
- Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). Menstruation and the menstrual cycle fact sheet. Retrieved November 1, 2016.