Each woman’s menstrual cycle is different, however, if you or someone you know is experiencing heavy, prolonged periods with extensive cramping and pressure, uterine fibroids may be to blame. Ascension Medical Group OB-GYN Dr. Simisola Caxton-Idowu says those muscular growths on the uterine walls – likely the culprit of your symptoms – are most likely to be benign, but you should still seek treatment.
“It’s the most common solid pelvic mass in women, but knowledge is definitely lacking,” Dr. Caxton-Idowu says. “People are often concerned that this could be cancer when they first seek treatment.” Even after she confirms that the condition is likely not cancerous, her patients still have questions around what the diagnosis will mean for their lives and reproductive health.
Not all people affected by uterine fibroids experience symptoms, but, for those who do, they can range from the aforementioned heavy periods and cramping to urinary complaints. Those who bleed heavily might experience symptoms of anemia, like dizziness, fatigue or feeling cold all the time. “It’s on a spectrum, so no two cases of uterine fibroids are the same. Some people can take medication or get by just being monitored. Some women need or want uterine surgery.” This could mean a myomectomy to remove the fibroids, or a hysterectomy to remove the uterus. “Treatment, much like the case itself, depends on the patient,” Dr. Caxton-Idowu says.
Uterine fibroids are most common in African Americans. We don’t know why exactly, but mistrust and other factors can lead to patients delaying or avoiding treatment. “In my own personal experience, I’ve seen Black women patients ignore or disregard their symptoms for longer than they should because they think it’s nothing. With this and other conditions, the takeaway is never hesitate to open a dialogue with your doctor,” she says.
Knowing that uterine fibroids may worsen during childbearing years and pregnancy might be frightening to women who want to start families, but the condition doesn’t necessarily mean there will be problems. Most women with fibroids have normal pregnancies. “Having fibroids doesn’t automatically disqualify you from having children. It depends on where they’re placed and your situation, but for the most part, it doesn’t always affect the ability to get pregnant,” Dr. Caxton-Idowu says.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, about 20 to 80% of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50, and they’re most common in women in their 40s and early 50s. Uterine fibroids usually shrink and vanish after menopause. Being overweight, having a family history of the condition and not-so-great eating habits have been proposed as possible links to uterine fibroids, but, as always, the best bet is to talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms or think you’re at risk. Dr. Caxton-Idowu says be open and honest.
Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting ascension.org/michigan or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627).