Ask the Expert: How Do Uterine Fibroids Impact Women?

Fibroids – especially cumbersome in Black women – can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, prolonged periods, bleeding between periods, pelvic pain and back pain.

Ascension Michigan

Have you experienced extreme pain during menstruation? You could be suffering from a condition known as uterine fibroids, which according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), develop in 80 to 90% of African American women by the age of 50 and oftentimes cause more severe symptoms for Black women than Caucasian women. 

The cause of fibroids isn’t well understood. Some of the known risk factors include obesity and early onset puberty. Are uterine fibroids an inherited disorder? “Fibroid disease is not a genetically inherited disorder” says Omar Zwain, M.D., a specialist in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery and a board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology with Ascension Medical Group. “Fibroids are not like sickle cell disease where we see a genetic link.” 

Uterine fibroids are firm, dense benign tumors that are made of smooth muscle cells that develop in the uterus, Dr. Zwain explains. “Fibroids are not cancer,” he says. Often, fibroids are found during a routine yearly pelvic exam. Heavy menstrual bleeding, prolonged periods, bleeding between periods, pelvic pain and back pain are symptoms to look out for. “Due to the increased size of the uterus, some women may experience increased urination,” Dr. Zwain adds.

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In some cases, however, there are no symptoms. “Sometimes, fibroids are an incidental finding on an ultrasound,” Dr. Zwain says. “If you are having normal cycles, and no heavy bleeding, there’s no need to panic. But, we don’t want to forget about these fibroids.” 

In some cases, women may experience infertility. Dr. Zwain says that many patients will ask, “What did I do wrong?” when fibroids are discovered. A common question he hears from women is whether what you eat played a role in forming fibroids. “Diet is not a factor,” he says. “Fibroids are not like obesity or heart disease where eating certain foods cause the problem.”

If treatment is necessary for fibroids, Dr. Zwain says it may include medication to help stop the growth of the fibroids or decrease the size of the fibroid, or in some cases, surgery to remove the fibroids. 

Ascension Providence Hospital has opened the first multi-disciplinary fibroid center in metro Detroit to help women with this condition. “We have a team of board-certified, fellowship-trained specialists in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery, interventional radiology and hematology at the center,” he says.  

Yearly pelvic exams are important, especially if you know that you have fibroids. Your doctor needs to be informed if you notice heavier and longer periods with clots over time, he says. Increased pain and increased problems with your menstrual cycle also need to be brought to your doctor’s attention.

Your doctor can determine if your fibroids have increased in size since the last exam. “There’s no need to panic if fibroids are found, but you need to remain vigilant,” he says. “Not all fibroids will need treatment, but you do need to keep an eye on it.”

Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting ascension.org/michigan or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627).

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