Fibroids are typically non-cancerous tumors of fibrous tissue that adhere to the uterine muscle wall. The women most commonly impacted by fibroids are middle-aged – usually in their 40s and 50s. Black women are diagnosed approximately three times as frequently as white women. Their symptoms tend to be more severe, and the number of fibroids is more numerous. Women of color also develop fibroids earlier than white women.
Here are several critical things you should know about managing your health if you live with fibroids.
The Physical Symptoms
The most common symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding, including signs of anemia
- Pain in the pelvis or pelvic floor
- Painful sexual activity
- Abdominal bloating and stomach pain
- Weight gain
- Physical fatigue
- Sensation of bladder pressure or need for frequent urination
- Feeling of rectal pressure, creating constipation and lower back pain
The Emotional Impacts
As you can imagine, living with the above symptoms can wreak havoc on a woman’s sense of well-being. It’s common for women living with fibroids to report struggles with emotional and mental health issues:
- Distorted sense of body image
- Decreased satisfaction with sexual activity
- Generally reduced quality of life
Some of these challenges are hormonally driven, as fibroids are reactive with a woman’s hormone cycles. But many of them also exist with the struggle of chronic pain and discomfort. Many patients with chronic pain will tell you that living like this is exhausting.
The Treatment Options
Every woman’s experience with fibroids is unique, so you should work with your physician to develop a treatment plan. You want support for managing symptoms and improving your quality of life. Educating yourself on the most common treatments is an excellent way to feel empowered in your choices.
1. Medicine Options
Some doctors prefer to start treatment with over-the-counter recommendations like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for discomfort. Others prescribe birth control, like low-dose progesterone medicines, to control growth and bleeding. For more severe cases, a doctor might recommend gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRH) to shrink the fibroids and reduce bleeding. These are often recommended before surgery to give a woman time to recover from anemia.
Talk to your doctor about your best starting point. Ask for options to consider if those first lines of defense no longer work for your symptoms.
2. Surgical Options
Three surgical options are commonly recommended for fibroid patients. Your doctor’s recommendation will depend on your risk factors, the size and number of fibroids, and the severity of symptoms.
- Myomectomy – either abdominal, laparoscopic, and hysteroscopic
- Hysterectomy – either vaginal, abdominal, and laparoscopic
- Uterine Artery Embolization – a newer option that cuts off blood flow to the uterine wall by injecting particles that block the arteries that feed the fibroid
3. Lifestyle Changes
As with many of the fertility health issues we discuss here at CreatingaFamily.org, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to improve your quality of life with fibroids.
It might be challenging but maintaining a healthy-for-you weight is a significant improvement. Along the way to attaining that healthy weight, increase your daily movement. Exercise is an excellent management tool for the physical and emotional symptoms common with fibroids. It would help if you also worked toward increasing fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish in your daily diet. You can simultaneously decrease red meats, unhealthy fats, and sugars.
Be patient with yourself over these lifestyle changes – your symptoms might make it harder to be hopeful about the impacts of the modifications, and your body might not respond as quickly as you’d like. Listen to what your body needs and keep at it – even one healthy change conquered at a time is a significant step forward!
4. Social & Emotional Changes
Finally, we highly encourage you to talk with your closest circle of family and friends if you suspect you have fibroids or you’ve received your diagnosis. Fibroids are a challenging condition to manage alone, between the issues of chronic pain, heavy bleeding, and emotional fall-out.
For example, don’t be afraid to admit when you cannot get out the door for a girls’ night out because your monthly cycle is just too heavy. If you’ve been honest about your struggle and your friends are in your corner, try asking them to come to hang out at your place instead!
If you are trying to manage your home, kids, and work while struggling with the cycles of pain and awful bleeding, line up some help. Try a Kids’ Night at Grandma’s or extra household help during the week of your monthly cycle. Subscribe to grocery or meal delivery for that week of the month. Make sure your movie-streaming service is all paid up for your nights in!
The point is, whatever you need to do to stay engaged and emotionally healthy, do it. And enlist your loved ones to help you. You need them to successfully manage the hard days, even if it’s to take regular life off your hands for a few days so you can hunker down to heal.
Living with Fibroids
The cyclical nature of living with fibroids can be exhausting and draining (please, excuse the pun!). Working with your physician on the best treatment options for you can be empowering. When you add healthy habits and learn to listen to what your body needs, you give yourself the best chance at managing fibroids and living a full life.
Do you have fibroids? What have you done to manage daily life with this condition? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Alex Green; Liza Summer; RF._.studio