July is National Fibroids Awareness Month and physicians at Atrium Health Navicent want women to know about this painful condition that affects 26 million American women ages 15 to 50.
Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors or growths within the uterus. They are the most common non-cancerous tumors in women of childbearing age, and it’s estimated that about 65 percent of women have fibroids by time they turn 65.
Fibroids usually grow in women of childbearing age, and research suggests that they may shrink after menopause. For Black women, fibroids typically develop at a younger age, grow larger and cause more severe symptoms. While age and race are the leading risk factors, other risk factors include obesity and family history of fibroids.
Uterine fibroids can cause pain and abnormal bleeding from the uterus. Sometimes, fibroids can make it difficult for a woman to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy. Large fibroids can lead to frequent pain.
“Fibroids can cause problems based on their size and/or location. Those closer to the lining of the uterus can cause more abnormal bleeding. Their bulk puts pressure on other organs and tissues in the pelvis. Fibroids also factor in infertility and can affect care during pregnancy,” said Dr. R. Edward Betcher, physician leader for women's health at Atrium Health Navicent.
Fibroids can cause uncomfortable or sometimes painful symptoms, such as:
Heavy bleeding or painful periods
Bleeding between periods
Pressure in the pelvis and lower abdomen
Pain during sex
Lower back pain
Reproductive problems, such as infertility and miscarriages
Obstetrical problems, such as increased likelihood of cesarean section
However, many women have no symptoms at all. According to the National Library of Medicine, there is a general lack of awareness of fibroids and their potential health impact. One survey documented an average of 3.6 years to seek treatment, and 41 percent of women saw at least two health care providers before diagnosis.
“Women may not be aware of the fact that their gynecological issues could be related to fibroids,” Betcher said. “We want to tell women that this isn’t something they have to live with. Many patients may have seen other family members suffer with fibroids and may assume they have to live with it, but that’s not the case.”
The first step in diagnosing fibroids is through annual gynecological wellness exams.
“Many times, we can pick up issues like fibroids before they become a significant burden or problem, which is why annual gynecological visits are so important,” Betcher said.
During your annual exam, doctors check the size of your uterus. If you have fibroids, your uterus may feel larger than normal, or it may feel irregularly shaped. If something abnormal is detected, your doctor may order an imaging test such as an ultrasound.
Fortunately, treatment options are available. Treatment varies based on the severity of a patient’s fibroids and symptoms.
“We identify the problem and share decision-making with the patient based on their desire for future fertility and the preservation of their uterus,” Betcher said.
Sometimes, doctors will just observe the fibroid to monitor it for any changes, especially if there are no symptoms. Other times, doctors may suggest surgical management such as a myomectomy, which is a removal of the fibroid tissue.
“Procedures like a myomectomy may treat a fibroid that’s in place, but it doesn’t prevent new fibroids from occurring. This can be a better option for women who are in their child-bearing years and want to preserve their options for fertility,” Betcher said.
For women who have completed child bearing, or who don’t want to have children, the most permanent means to remove fibroids is through a hysterectomy, which is a removal of the uterus.
The most important thing is to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of fibroids.
“We want patients to know uterine fibroids are a commonly occurring, but very treatable condition, and that minimally invasive surgery is the standard of care for treating women with fibroids,” Betcher said. “Atrium Health Navicent offers robotic surgery and other minimally invasive options. Many women think they have to live with troublesome fibroids, but that’s not the case.”
For more information about Atrium Health Navicent Women’s Care, visit https://navicenthealth.org/service-center/womens-care.