What Do You Know About Fibroids?
Fibroids are the most frequently seen “tumors” of the female reproductive system, according to UCLA Health. Though they're common, many women do not know much about the condition until it affects them. The lack of knowledge surrounding fibroids makes it a condition that, if not caught on time, can be detrimental to a woman's reproductive health.
The biggest misconception is that fibroids are a form of cancer
Throughout his career, Dr. Chris Emeka Uddoh, M.D., F.A.C.O.G, of the Mercy Health Care System, estimated that he's treated several hundred women for fibroids.
When asked why the condition might affect Black women more, Dr. Uddoh stated, “Some people speculate it might have to do with certain type of promoter-enzyme in the uterus. Studies of twins and families imply familial predisposition to fibroids although fibroids occur sporadically in families.”
Dr. Uddoh, stated, “The biggest misconception is that fibroids are a form of cancer. Nothing can be further from the truth. If it were, women will be falling on the streets like autumn leaves and guys will be climbing up the walls. Also, having fibroids means I might be getting a hysterectomy - no, not by a long shot!”
When I was six months pregnant, my belly was the size of a full-term pregnancy and I went into contractions. I was under strict surveillance; they were all worried because of my age, and that one fibroid was huge. I know two ladies with fibroids who, unfortunately, lost their babies during their third month of pregnancy.” Mrs. Nzeribe relayed.
“Where I come from in Nigeria a lot of people get fibroids. After I had my baby, I told my doctor that I wanted to get the fibroids out. She said they ordinarily don't remove them except if they posed a life-threat. If I were in Nigeria, I would've had them removed.” Mrs. Nzeribe stated.
This mirrors statements that unless fibroids themselves are causing issues or risk to a woman's life, they often treat the symptoms of fibroids rather than the fibroids themselves, expressed by Dr. Uddoh and Nurse Samah Weston, who has also provided services to many women with fibroids.
“Some of my patients tell me that they are afraid to take vacations far away from their doctors in case something happens, and they have to be treated by medical persons who don't know their history. They also may be afraid to get into serious relationships for fear their partner won't understand. There is also the inconvenience of sometimes needing several iron infusions, taking time from work or daily lives.” Nurse Samah Weston explained.
·Hysterectomy - surgery to remove the uterus, ·Myolysis - electric shock to shrink the fibroids, ·Birth Control Pills - to help with heavy bleeding and menstrual pain. ·Medicines - to block the body from ovulating, which also helps to decrease the size of the fibroids. Not viewed as a good long-term treatment. It mimics symptoms of menopause. ·Infusions - If anemia occurs, patients can get iron infusions, oral iron, or blood transfusions depending on the severity. Women should consider the pros and cons of each treatment option, especially related to risks, and financial costs.
Raising awareness about fibroids through support groups, public health campaigns, and media would help to relieve some of the stigma, and help women be more comfortable discussing their experiences and seeking help.
Social and Emotional Tolls There are often emotional and social tolls that fibroids have on women that should be addressed. It is important to hear the stories of those affected by the condition, in addition to the perspectives of medical professionals to understand the extent to which fibroids affect women's lives.
“When I was doing the scan in preparation for my pregnancy, they told me I had multiple fibroids, one the size of a five-month old baby.” Mrs. Ngozi Nzeribe accounts the discovery of her fibroids.
Uncommon Knowledge about a Common Condition
Fibroids are compact balls of muscles that form in the woman's uterus (womb). They are often referred to as tumors, though most are almost always benign or noncancerous. Despite this, the complications that come with fibroids can have a serious impact on women's reproductive health.
Several risk factors that influence the probability that a woman will suffer from fibroids: ·Age - between 30 and the end of menopause; after menopause fibroids shrink. ·Family history – if women in family have suffered from fibroids. ·Ethnic origin – being of African heritage. ·Obesity – overweight. ·Eating habits – diets full of red meat and ham; doctors suggests eating a lot of vegetables.
Some women may not have symptoms; for others, symptoms vary and may include: ·Heavy period bleeding which can cause anemia ·Painful period ·Lower back pain ·Pain with sex ·Fertility issues caused by blockage.
Though there are no definitive ways to prevent fibroids, steroid hormones can influence the development of fibroids, although that method is complex. There are high levels of both estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy, and with estrogenprogestin contraceptive use, both decrease the risk of developing fibroids.
Women are their own best advocates
Luckily for most women, fibroids do not bring about serious complications that cannot be treated.
She noted, “Many women don't acknowledge having fibroids. When I started talking about them, women I knew started opening up, which was good.”
“I think my conception was as a miracle. Because the fibroids were in the uterus, my baby was bridged and didn't have much room to move around. I was in a lot of distress. I couldn't eat well; when I ate, my diaphragm was stressed so I always had shortness of breath.
- Pain, pressure or a feeling of fullness in belly
- The need to urinate often
- Too few bowel movements or constipation.
A doctor or health care provider can diagnose fibroids with a pelvic exam, confirmed by an MRI, CT scan, X ray, or pelvic ultrasound. If fibroids are present, the uterus will be larger than normal or irregularly shaped.
If there are no symptoms, treatment is usually not needed. Treatments may vary, and are impacted by the risk factors. The treatment can be medical or surgical; situations that may affect the decision are:
·Heavy menstrual bleeding, pain, or pressure that don't improve with medical treatments.
- A woman's age.
- A woman's desire to have children in the future.
- If causing anemia or fertility issues.
- The size, number, and location of the fibroids.
- The patient's feelings about the risks and benefits.
- Myomectomy - surgery to remove fibroids from the uterus,
- Endometrial ablation - procedure to destroy the lining of the uterus,
- Uterine Artery Embolization, UAE or Uterine Fibroid Embolization, UFE - treatment to cut off blood supply to fibroids,
The medical community should do more to raise awareness, assist with advocacy for funds so that low-income women can participate in screening programs and better afford treatment, and be empathic to women's concerns. Treatment and getting support should be a two-way conversation between the patient and doctor. Women benefit from learning about their bodies and being aware of changes that can develop into more serious conditions.
By Cokie Nanka