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Uterine Fibroids and Heavy Periods

Uterine fibroids are common in women today. They’re so common that many women go undiagnosed for years, thinking that heavy, clotted period flow is normal.

By age 50, about 80% of black women and 70% of white women experience uterine fibroids. From unwanted symptoms to long-term side effects to medical disparities, fibroids are a topic of concern among women and health professionals today.

Keep reading to learn more or listen to leaders discuss uterine fibroids on these Fempower Health podcast episodes: Uterine Fibroids Foundations and Standard of Care for Uterine Fibroids.

Female Hand holding a white menstrual cup with roses in and and rose petals surrounding it

What is a Uterine Fibroid?

Uterine fibroids are benign (noncancerous) tumors that grow in the muscular wall of the uterus. Although there is no known cause, these fibroids are very common in women. There are many clinical, social, and economic impacts of uterine fibroids.

According to Juan Camilo Arjona Ferreira, a gynecologist and the Chief Medical Officer at Myovant Sciences: “All symptoms associated with menstruation tend to be normalized.” Because heavy bleeding and period pain— two major signs of fibroids— are assumed “normal” in much of society, few women realize their symptoms are cause for concern.

Uterine Fibroid Symptoms

The main symptom of fibroids in women is heavy menstrual bleeding, or “menorrhagia”. Heavy bleeding affects up to 54% of menstruating women and can lead to other conditions like anemia, pregnancy complications, and hormone imbalances.

What is considered “heavy” menstrual bleeding? The key indicators are:

  • Period bleeding that occurs for more than seven days

  • Regularly needing to change your super pad or tampon every 1-2 hours

  • Passing large clots in your menses (larger than the size of a nickel or quarter)

  • Bleeding that negatively impacts your quality of life

Typically, heavy period bleeding means you bleed more than 80 mLs of menses during a cycle. For reference, one regular tampon holds about 4mL.

  • Menstrual periods lasting more than a week

  • Pelvic pressure or pain

  • Lower back pain

  • Bloating

  • Pain during sexual intercourse

  • Swelling of the lower abdomen

  • Difficulty emptying the bladder

  • Constipation

  • Backache or leg pains

If the fibroids are large, they can compress the bowel or bladder, causing some women to frequently use the bathroom.

How do Uterine Fibroids Affect Women?

Fibroids can take a toll on a woman’s physical and reproductive wellness. It can also greatly impact her quality of life.

People with fibroids and heavy bleeding are 15 times more likely to be admitted to the ER. They’re also more likely to have anemia, which is an iron deficiency. Many women miss work due to painful periods and uncontrollable bleeding caused by fibroids, leaving them with financial loss.

Uterine fibroids are a leading cause of hysterectomy— many of which could’ve been avoided with better treatment options and patient advocacy. The medical, economic, and psychological cost of diagnosis and treatment for uterine fibroids costs billions of dollars per year on the healthcare system, posing a significant impact on women and society.

Diagnosis and Treatment

How are uterine fibroids diagnosed? Diagnosis is achieved through pelvic exams and uterine imaging. Ultrasound, MRI, and X-ray scans can determine uterine fibroids. More invasive diagnostic methods, like hysteroscopy and laparoscopy, are also helpful in diagnosis.

A hysteroscopy is used to see inside the vagina and cervix using a long scope with a light. This allows doctors to locate intruding fibroids.