Fibroids are a complex gynecological condition that may impact fertility, and the condition disproportionately affects Black women.
As a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist with over 20 years of experience in the medical women’s health space, I launched Viva Eve in 2016 to provide patients with a one-stop destination where they can manage all aspects related to their overall health. Viva Eve provides patients with in-house access to specialists outside of the traditional OBGYN space, including gynecological surgeons, fibroid specialists, a primary care doctor, and a nutritionist, making the practice one of the most sought-after women’s health destinations in the NY area.
You may be unfamiliar with uterine fibroids, yet 70 to 80% of women will develop fibroids by the time they are 50 years old.
What are fibroids?
Fibroids are typically non-cancerous tumors that develop in the uterus. These benign tumors develop from normal uterus muscle cells that start growing abnormally. Fibroids can vary in size, ranging from microscopic to several inches. There are several different types of fibroids—and it’s not unusual to have more than one type.
Fibroids may not always present with symptoms, but the most common symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
- Heavy, prolonged or painful periods with or without clotting
- Moderate to severe menstrual cramps
- Irregular monthly bleeding or spotting, bleeding between periods, unpredictable menstrual cycles
- Lower back pain and pain in the back of the legs
- Pain during sex and loss of libido due to this
- Pelvic pressure, distended and bloated abdomen
- Anemia (low blood count) due to heavy blood loss that can lead to a lack of energy and fatigue
- Weak bladder control, frequent urination because of bladder pressure
All women of childbearing age are at risk for developing fibroids—and Black women are 3 times more likely to develop fibroids than white women.
That said, awareness is low and fibroids are often misdiagnosed and treated with invasive and body-altering procedures, such as a hysterectomy.
Fibroids are often suspected at a gynecology visit during a pelvic examination, when the doctor presses on your abdomen (palpates) to feel the uterus.
The diagnosis is then confirmed through an ultrasound and/or an MRI to gather more specific information such as size, location and blood flow. Not all fibroids are symptomatic, but when they are, this also greatly helps in the diagnostic process.
Busting fibroid myths
Fibroids are genetic
- Fact: Scientists aren’t sure why, but if your mother, grandmother or sister had fibroids, you are predisposed to developing fibroids yourself. In fact, women with a family history of uterine fibroids are three times more likely to develop fibroids. It’s unknown exactly what causes fibroids, but it’s believed that hormones and genetics play a role in their growth.
The only treatment for fibroids is a hysterectomy
- Myth: Although fibroids are the leading cause of hysterectomies in the U.S., treating your fibroids don’t necessarily require a hysterectomy. You can undergo surgery to remove just the fibroids (known as a myomectomy), or explore less invasive treatment options. There are minimally invasive same-day procedures, such as uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), that can relieve symptoms and dramatically improve quality of life. Fibroid hormone treatment is another alternative.
If you don’t have severe symptoms, you shouldn’t worry about your fibroids
- Fact: Some women with fibroids experience no symptoms. If this is the case for you, treatment may not be necessary. However, it’s important to have regular checkups to make sure your fibroids are not causing problems. If you are not experiencing troublesome symptoms, then there is no need to medically treat or remove your fibroids.
Womb detoxing can help fibroids to “pass” out of the body
- Myth: If you’re unfamiliar with womb detoxing, herbal detox pearls are essentially small cloth-covered balls packed with medicinal herbs which, in theory, deliver a wide range of benefits to the vagina and uterus. The user is instructed to insert the pearl into their vagina, and remove it after a period of 72 hours.
- Unfortunately, the science on womb detoxing is weak. In fact, leaving anything in the vagina for three days can cause toxic shock syndrome and create a breeding ground for bad bacteria to build. Women’s health experts consider it dangerous and do not recommend using detox pearls or any other form of detoxing, including yoni steaming and other detoxes.
Fibroids can impact your fertility
- Fact: Not all fibroids cause problems with pregnancy, but some do. Whether fibroids will stop you from becoming pregnant depends on the location, size, and number of your fibroids.
- Fibroids can also create a physical barrier to pregnancy if they’re positioned in the uterus where the baby needs to be. Large fibroids may prevent a fetus from growing fully due to decreased room in the uterus. Fibroids blocking the cervix or fallopian tubes obstruct the journey or sperm of a fertilized egg, preventing pregnancy from occurring.
- While these problems only happen with some women, it helps to have a fibroid expert at your side to help you come up with a plan to preserve or protect your fertility and eventually become fibroid-free.
Undergoing the UFE procedure will leave you infertile and unable to conceive
- Myth: This is a common misconception. Fertility is a complex topic that involves many factors. First, fibroids themselves can impact a woman’s fertility depending on their location. Second, many patients who suffer from fibroids symptoms are already in their mid- to late thirties or older. We know that fertility is highly connected to and impacted by age. Egg quality naturally decreases significantly in a woman’s thirties. Lastly, a patient may already have issues with their fertility that was not previously diagnosed. Overall, uterine fibroid embolization may rarely impact a person’s egg quality depending on their anatomy and specific situation but this is an unlikely scenario. There are similar but different risks associated with each of the other surgical options available. Every procedure has its risks and benefits and it is important that each patient feels comfortable with these trade-offs and has the opportunity to properly discuss them with their doctor prior.
A note from Motherly
If you have been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, your doctor should discuss all the fibroid treatments options with you. There are several factors that will determine which is the best course of treatment for you, including your age, risk factors, your medical history, and how severe your symptoms are. You can always visit Viva Eve for a consultation or other resources to advocate for your own health.
Eltoukhi HM, Modi MN, Weston M, Armstrong AY, Stewart EA. The health disparities of uterine fibroid tumors for African American women: a public health issue. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2014;210(3):194-199. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2013.08.008
Ulin M, Ali M, Chaudhry ZT, Al-Hendy A, Yang Q. Uterine fibroids in menopause and perimenopause. Menopause. 2020;27(2):238-242. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000001438
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