When it comes to your health, it's important to know your risk factors for fibroids--plus what it means for your health if you get this diagnosis. Many women have heard about fibroids (benign tumors that develop in or on a woman's uterus) but don't know much more than the name. Here is our quick cheat sheet for really understanding these tumors:
What are Your Risk Factors for Fibroids?
Before we get started, we have to be clear: we still don't the exact reason why women get fibroids. However, we do know that, by the age of 50, 70% of women will develop these tumors. And, of those women, between 20-25% will experience disruptive fibroid symptoms. Plus now, thanks to recent studies, we also have a clearer picture of what raises women's fibroid risk.
First, we know that race plays a major role in your fibroid risk. While any woman can develop fibroids, the ones at highest risk: have a family history, are Black or Hispanic, and/or have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI). In fact, according to a recent study in the BJOG Journal, black women have a two-threefold higher fibroid risk. That's why about 70% of black women develop fibroids, according to the study. (The Society for Interventional Radiology estimates 80% of black women will develop fibroids by the time they turn 50.) And it may be why European women have a lower fibroid risk than women in the U.S.: the racial mix in populations is very different.
Still, as more Caucasian women present with elevated BMIs, their fibroid risk has also increased. And we know, thanks to this study, 11 other factors that increase your fibroid risk. These include your age (risk decreases as you get older), premenopausal state, hypertension, family history and the time since your last birth. (Having more full-term pregnancies seems to decreases your fibroid risk. Breastfeeding could also impact your fibroid risk. That's because your ovarian hormones decrease when you nurse. ) Smoking or consuming certain food additives or soybean milk may also increase your chances of getting fibroids.
In some cases, the use of oral contraceptives or the injectable contraceptive depot medroxyprogesterone acetate increased your fibroid risk. That's not necessarily surprising, since we know that two things make fibroids grow: hormones, especially estrogen, and blood supply.
But, while some forms of birth control increase your fibroid risk, we can also often control fibroid growth with birth control pills. And, we can shrink the tumors by cutting off their blood supply using a procedure called UFE (uterine fibroid embolization.)
Environmental Risk Factors for Fibroids' Growth
Recently, we've learned something about fibroid risk and your environment from this study in Fertility and Sterility. When pregnant women expecting daughters were exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the babies seemed to have a higher rate of developing fibroids. While researchers aren't sure why, it seems that these hormones change the developing uterus in ways that make fibroid growth more likely.
What are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs)? Well, they can be man-made or natural. Either way, these are chemicals that interfere with your endocrine system. As a result, they can harm your developmental reproductive, neurological and immune health. BPA and phthalates are some of the best-known EDCs.
In fact, reviews in 2017 and 2019 found that exposure to phthalates at any point in your life increases your risk for fibroids. In the first study, researchers in China discovered that having more of the phthalate DEHP in your urine (it's often added to plastic to make it flexible) translated to a higher risk for fibroids. And in the second study, Black women with higher phthalate levels in their urine had both larger fibroids and enlarged uteruses.
Now, these are just the risks associated with one kind of EDC. But many others exist. And now we can say that any exposure ups your fibroid risk, as does having diabetes; being obese; suffering from cardiovascular disease or reproductive tract disorders; being over the age of 40; having no children; or having neurodevelopmental disorders.
Genetic Fibroid Risks
We are constantly discovering other fibroid risk factors, and recently, scientists from the University of Helsinki uncovered a genetic link. After monitoring 728 women with 2263 tumors, researchers grouped their fibroids by genetic variants.
For most women, these fibroids fell neatly into one of three. But a number of the fibroids didn't fit into previously identified categories. Instead, they showed variations that cells' histone activity. (Histones help shape and control genes.activity.)
After seeing this variation, the researchers discovered an inherited fibroid risk. Women with certain genetic mutations have a higher risk of developing tumors. As a result, with more research, women with these mutations could receive counseling and regular fibroid screening. In that way, it could be easier to detect and diagnose any developing growths in their earliest stages.
New Genetic Test for Fibroids: If My Mother Had Fibroids Will I Get Them?
A new study in Human Genetics identified certain gene combinations that point towards your risk factors for fibroids. After identifying these genes, they can assign screened women a uterine fibroid polygenic risk score (PRS). The idea? The higher your PRS, the more likely you are to develop fibroids. Now, doctors can screen patients for these genes and determine each woman's PRS score. After receiving an elevated PRS score, women could place their symptoms in context if they appear. Then, they could avoid delaying a fibroid diagnosis. So that women wouldn't have to suffer for years without relief.
After studying the test results of almost 500 women with fibroids, researchers compared their genetic markers to women without these growths. Here's what they found. There are 30 specific genetic chromosomal locations that can be linked to an increased fibroid development risk. Now that we know their connection, if your mother or grandmother had fibroids, you can ask doctors to screen you for these markers. Then, if you have any, you may reach a fibroid diagnosis faster if you start displaying any symptoms.
How Can I Confirm my Fibroid Diagnosis?
If you are experiencing fibroid symptoms like heavy periods, pelvic pain, incontinence or constipation, your doctor may check you for fibroids. Unfortunately, many women will face physicians who dismiss their pain, so you may have to self-advocate or see several doctors to be taken seriously. We hope that's not the case, but you should be prepared...and persistent.
Once you find a doctor who listens, you'll usually receive a pelvic exam and a pelvic sonogram; together, they should deliver a fibroids diagnosis. Still, you may need a transvaginal sonogram to determine if the fibroid has affected your uterine lining.
As soon as you've been diagnosed, you'll need to consider your treatment options. And remember that you do have options: not all fibroid diagnoses will end in surgery. In fact, there are minimally invasive fibroid treatments that can help you find relief. But the option you choose will largely depend on the type of symptoms you're currently experiencing.
How will Fibroids Impact my Life?
Once you know you have fibroids, you have lots of options. If you aren't bothered by symptoms, you may just monitor the tumor(s). With fibroids that are small, birth control, diet and exercise may keep them from causing you pain. However, fibroids can lead to hypertension when you have fibroids in your 40s, and that can take a greater toll on your overall health. Plus, if pregnancy is important to you, the location of your fibroids will also be important. Fibroids that grow in the uterine cavity or block the fallopian tubes may affect your fertility.
If symptoms or infertility send you in search of relief, it's important to research all your treatment options. While some doctors may recommend surgery (myomectomy or hysterectomy), we like to explore less invasive options. To learn more about non-surgical fibroid treatments schedule a consult today with our Houston area fibroid experts.
Sources: International Journal of Fertility and Sterility, BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
One of the worst parts of your monthly cycle is painful period cramps. For many women, the arrival of your period means the start of painful cramping. (Caused by uterine contractions that help shed its lining.) For many women, those cramps are localized in their pelvis and abdomen. But for others, cramping in the anal region and rectum (called proctalgia fugax) can cause that period pain in your buttocks as well, amplifying the problem.
But how bad can it be, really? Well, cramp severity can vary by month, based on your underlying health conditions as well as levels of prostaglandins in your body. (Those are the hormones that tighten and relax your uterus during your cycle.) And, with these fluctuations, sometimes the cramps are so intrusive, they keep you from going through your daily activities. (Don't believe us dudes? Check out these male morning show hosts experience a menstrual cramp simulator on YouTube.) Now, that's just a reflection of the simulated pain. But in real life, it can be much worse. In fact, according to an Australian survey, 3 out of 10 girls skip at least one class a month because of period pain.
(If that’s your situation, and your period is also very heavy, you may have uterine fibroids. Be sure and talk to your healthcare provider.) And, we also want you to remember this fact. No matter what’s causing your menstrual cramps, relief may be available sooner (and easier) than you’d think. Try our top five tips for getting rid of period cramps!
Medical and Lifestyle Interventions That Can Help Manage Period Cramps
Depending on how bad your period pain is, one or more of these tips can help you feel better:
1. Heat therapy. Try putting a heating pad on your lower abdomen. If that’s not an option, relax into a warm bath. Both these options should help relax your uterine muscles, easing those cramps and alleviating much of your discomfort.
2. Get your sweat on. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins—hormones that naturally make you feel good and can help battle pain. If you’re able to get to the gym for a few 45 min- 1 hour sessions in the initial days of your periods, your cramping discomfort will likely calm down. But remember, if you have fibroids, you may need to change your workout a bit. Here are the best ways to exercise with fibroids. So you can get period relief and fibroid relief while you explore your treatment options!
3. Self-care. Though not helpful for everyone, many women find relief from menstrual pain through massage and acupuncture. And, while we can’t attest to scientific evidence that these treatments help, if they work for you then there’s no harm in trying! Another form of self-care is practicing yoga. Some women have reported that practicing yoga for period pain has helped to relieve their menstrual symptoms.
4. OTC (over-the-counter) meds. If your period pain is strong (but not debilitating) you may find relief from drugs like:
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
5. Treat your fibroids. If non-cancerous uterine tumors are causing your painful periods, treatment should give you a permanent solution to your cramps. At our office, we offer a minimally-invasive option known as Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE.) Talk to your healthcare provider, or click here to request an appointment with our Houston fibroid specialists, to see if UFE is right for you!
Sources: The Conversation
There's a lot of focus on black hair relaxers when it comes to understanding why women get fibroids. You see, uterine fibroids are just worse for black women than for any other group. African Americans develop these tumors three times as often as women of other races. Plus, their fibroids develop earlier--often in their twenties. In comparison, most white women don't get fibroids until their 30s.
But that's not all. With fibroids, black women are more likely to develop anemia with fibroids. They also have a higher risk for fibroids symptoms such as painful sex, severe pelvic pain and heavy periods.
Of course, those are scary statistics. But what's worse? We don't have concrete explanations for the disparities. What we do have, however, are theories. And one of those theories has to do with hair styling.
Could Black Hair Relaxers Impact Fibroids?
Hair products--can't live without 'em, right? Well, as it turns out, it also may not be wise to live with them.
According to the Silent Spring Institute, many of the hair products marketed to black women are full of harmful chemicals. Ever wondered why they smell so bad? It's basically the poisons inside them. They're just revealing their nature.
In fact, there is some science to back up this claim. A 2017 Rutgers University study linked breast cancer and Black women's use of hair relaxers. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology associated fibroid risk with the use of hair relaxers. Shirley McDonald of the Hair and Scalp Clinic says, "We now know that many hair products contain chemicals that are considered carcinogenic and/or hormone disrupters, leading to increased risk of medical issues such as fibroids (non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterus, potentially damaging fertility and leading to a host of other complications). Trichologists see lots of conditions that are likely to be triggered by hair products, particularly central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, a type of permanent hair loss to the crown area of the scalp."
More recently, the National Institutes of Health spent eight years studying over 46,000 women of all races between the ages of 35–74. They were looking for links between chemical hair relaxers and breast cancer. And, they discovered African American women's breast cancer risk increased risk by 45%.
Breast cancer and other reproductive issues, including, fibroid development, are often connected. So this study suggests there are even more reasons to steer clear of black hair relaxers.
Plus, there's a new study from the American Journal of Epidemiology that further confirms this link. In their group of 23,000 menstruating Black American women, these participants displayed two to three times higher uterine fibroid incidences. And, especially for the younger women, the researcher said that had a lot to do with exposure to the chemicals in black hair relaxers.
And it just gets worse from there. According to new findings from the Sister Study, led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) these products also increase uterine cancer risk. In fact, according to NIEHS head Alexandra White, who was lead author on the study, “We estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70. But for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%. This doubling rate is concerning."
Luckily, women aren't taking these findings sitting down. Instead, strong women like California resident Rugieyatu Bhonopha are calling out the manufacturers of these dangerous hair straightening products. Recently, our #WCW filed a lawsuit in the Northern of California alleging that chemicals found in various L’Oreal hair straightening contributed to her fibroids diagnosis. We hope she won't be the last. But as the brave first, we salute Ms. Bhonopha as our Woman Crush of the Week!
Even better? The FDA is now taking notice of these troubling developments. And they're preparing to take action. In fact, reports reveal that the FDA has proposed a ban--effective April of 2024--on any products containing formaldehyde due to their links to increased cancer risks and other health complications.
Chemicals in Black Women's Hair Products
Among the many dangerous substances in black women's hair products? Cyclosiloxanes, nonylphenols (also found in certain detergents), and phthalates (also found in plastics, they are the main reason people are working to ban plastics from food containers.) They may also contain formaldehyde, Di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP), parabens and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Besides their toxicity, each of these chemicals share a common bond--they have all been linked to hormone disruption as well as an increased risk of developing fibroids, asthma, infertility, and even cancer. That's a hefty price to pay for shinier hair.
Throwing Flames on the Fire
Being exposed to these chemicals is particularly troubling for black women, as they already have a higher risk of developing fibroids than other populations of women. Family history plays a part in that risk. And some people suggest that higher obesity rates may also be at issue.
But, more and more, certain hair products are also starting to shoulder the blame. According to the Silent Spring study mentioned earlier, 80% of Black hair products they tested contained "endocrine-disrupting and asthma-causing chemicals." Products examined included by the study included relaxers, hot oil treatments, leave-in conditioners, and anti-frizz balms. The scariest statistic? Hair relaxers that specifically targeted children had the highest levels of chemicals; many of those chemicals have already been banned in the EU.
New Evidence Links Relaxers to Female Cancers
Of course, fibroids are a major problem. But hair relaxers are linked to so many other health problems. In fact, that National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that followed over 46,000 women of all races between the ages of 35–74? It also found a link between chemical hair relaxers and breast cancer. Perhaps not surprisingly, African American women had a 45 percent increased risk of breast cancer as compared to women of other races.
Furthermore, Boston University's Black Women's Health study confirmed the increased risk of uterine cancer with hair relaxer use. After following 55,000 self-identified black women for 25 years, the researchers noted that women were 30% more likely to develop breast cancer if they used hair relaxers at least 7 times a year.
Today, real women are speaking out about becoming part of these statistics. In Georgia, Kiara Burroughs and three other black women filed law suits against L'Oreal and Strength of Nature, claiming their hair relaxers led to fibroid development and other serious health issues. And, while we await decisions in their court cases, there are steps you can take at home to protect yourself from complications.
While you can't do anything about your family history, being selective about the hair products you choose can certainly go a long way towards protecting your health. To help you do so, try checking what's in your products in the Skin Deep database. This should point out any concerning chemicals in your relaxers or other beauty products. Or download the ThinkDirty app, which highlights known health concerns linked to every ingredient included in your beauty products. Finally, check the Detox Me app for tips on buying safer beauty products. And for help learning the buzz words manufacturers use to hide dangerous ingredients.
To find out more about dangerous hair care products and your individual fibroid risk, please contact our Houston fibroid specialists office for a consultation with Dr. Fox or Dr. Hardee.
Sources: Vox, NY Times parenting, Silent Spring Institute, NIH
Many women wonder if fibroids and bloating go hand in hand. And they want to know if treating their uterine fibroids will resolve that bloating. Are you dealing with this same concern? Here’s everything you need to know about fibroids causing stomach swelling. But first, let's get in a quick refresher on these growths that form in and around the uterus.
What are uterine fibroids?
These common growths are non-cancerous tumors composed of fibrous muscle tissue. There’s not one reason why women might develop fibroids, but family history, race, exposure to certain chemicals, and even hormonal imbalances can all increase your risk.
On their own, these growths don’t pose a threat to your health. However, they can leave you experiencing many unwanted symptoms including long or heavy periods; back pain; pelvic pain; enlargement of the uterus; and—you may have guessed it—bloating!
Fibroids and Bloating: The Less-Discussed Fibroid Symptoms
When we talk about fibroid symptoms, doctors usually mention pelvic pain and heavy periods, or even bleeding between cycles. With large fibroids, pressure on your bladder or rectum could even change your bowel movements or urination habits.
But how are fibroids and bloating related? Many women experience bloating, whether or not they have fibroids. In fact, this symptom is a common side effect of everything from irritable bowel syndrome, excessive air swallowing, or changes in the gut’s bacteria levels.
So, how can fibroids contribute to bloating and gas? This side effect is most likely to develop when your fibroids are quite large. Due to their sheer size, they create the feeling of pressure, and can enlarge the uterus enough to make you look bloated. In some cases, that distension is extreme enough to make women look pregnant. In fact, Entertainment Tonight host Nischelle Turner recently posted on X (formerly Twitter): "When I was suffering from fibroids a few months ago my stomach swelled and so many people kept saying oh you’re pregnant or asking if I was…they didn’t know I had tumors, but it was also none of their business. Mind ya tongue…"
Now, we couldn't agree more. But stomach swelling isn't the only way fibroids contribute to bloat. Larger fibroids can also press on your rectum, as we mentioned earlier. In such cases, passing bowel movements may be more difficult, leading to constipation. And, since bloating, gas and constipation often go hand in hand, fibroids could once again be the source of the problem.
Relief for Fibroids Bloating
Fibroid symptoms such as bloating and gas can make every day uncomfortable. But you don’t have to live with them forever—and you don’t need surgery to find relief. Here in Houston, our fibroid specialists are providers of UFE, a minimally invasive fibroid treatment that shrinks your tumors, relieving symptoms such as bloating, without surgery or overnight hospital stays. Want to learn if you’re a UFE candidate? Contact our office and schedule a consultation!
So many people are too shy or embarrassed to talk about their period problems, and that’s a big problem. If you don’t speak up, you may worry needlessly or you may never identify symptoms that indicate a bigger medical problem. In order to help you navigate this sensitive subject, we’re breaking down what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to your monthly visitor. Keep in mind, however, that every woman’s cycle is different, so it’s worth mentioning any major changes to your OBGYN, even if they are seemingly within the normal range.
Unfortunately, too many women have grown up in a culture of silence. They learned from parents not to talk about women's problems. And that's troubling, since changes in your period are often a warning sign of uterine fibroids.
That was the case for three-time Olympian Magdalena Moshi, from Tanzania. Growing up in Africa, she said it was taboo to talk about her cycle. As such, she never knew that fibroids ran in her family. Ultimately, that meant she avoided treating these growths...until she needed emergency surgery to remove four kilograms of fibroids from her uterus. Now, she wants other women to avoid this fate. So, listen to her story here. And keep reading to learn more about your period, and why it's a key health indicator for many women.
What is your period?
A period is the shedding of your uterine lining. This lining builds up over the course of the month in preparation for pregnancy. “If you don’t get pregnant, your hormone levels drop, and the lining separates from your uterus. That’s when you experience the bleeding known as your period.
Pain with your Cycle
Normal: Stomach pain or cramps that start in your stomach but may spread to your thighs or back. A sharp stomach pain or dull ache may also be a problem. Typically, normal period pain lasts about three days, and resolves once your flow lightens.
Not Normal: Experiencing mild to severe pain, or a dull ache in your pelvis or lower abdomen. While the pain may intensify during your period, it can impact you at any time of the month.
Period Problems: Bleeding
Normal: Women’s periods are typically heavier at the start of their cycle, and gradually become lighter.
Not Normal: If you have to change your pad or tampon more than every few hours; if you are bleeding through protection or having to get up at night to change your protection so you avoid stained sheets; or if you are passing large clots, you may be experiencing abnormal bleeding. Of course, excess bleeding is its own problem because of anemia risks. But it could also be a sign of underlying problems like fibroids, certain cancers or other medical concerns.
That was the case for Kym Lee, a celebrity makeup artist who received a fibroids diagnosis after reporting symptoms such as heavy periods and painful cramps. Unfortunately, she didn't receive treatment counseling at the time. And so, she didn't seek treatment until, one day, she bled so heavily that she passed out in her garage. At that point, she needed an emergency hysterectomy. But, had she sought treatment earlier, she could have availed herself of less invasive treatment options.
Is Clotting a Sign of Period Problems?
Normal: When you’re flowing regularly, you may notice some smaller blood clumps (or clots), especially on your heaviest days.
Not Normal: If you’re passing larger clots—anything bigger than the size of a quarter—that’s a sign of possible problems. Even if your clots are smaller, but you see them frequently, it’s worth discussing with your healthcare provider.
When is Timing an Issue?
Normal: Again, all women are unique, but ‘normal; cycles range from 21 to 35 days between the first day of one period to the first day of the next. The bleeding typically lasts between three and eight days, according to their website.
Not normal: Once you’re out of adolescence and have established your normal cycle range, any major timing changes could be problematic. Missing a few cycles when you aren’t pregnant? That’s something to discuss with your doctor. Bleeding outside of your regular period, or during sex? Another issue to discuss with a medical caregiver. Getting two periods in a month? Talk about it! Because changes in your cycle often indicate that your body is under stress. Figure out what's causing stress before you develop other problems.
Normal: Mild discomfort during your period is normal, and should be easily managed with OTC medications. Standard cramps or period-related discomfort shouldn’t affect your day to day life.
Not normal: Pain that can’t be managed with drugstore medications is a sign of a problem. Pain that causes nausea and vomiting, should also be cause for concern, especially of the pain begins to radiate down your legs. Excessive pain could be an indication of endometriosis or adenomyosis, conditions that are difficult to diagnose if women aren’t forthcoming about their symptoms.
Pelvic pain experienced outside of your period is also not ‘normal’ and should be investigated further, as it is a potential indication of fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that develop in and around your uterus.
Normal: You may slow down or rest a bit more while on your period, but it's your choice. You easily keep up with your regular routine and everyday demands.
Not normal: Your period leaves you exhausted and barely able to make it through your day, let alone add on extras like time with friends or bonus sweat sessions (which is a shame, since exercise can help combat menstrual cramps.) Sometimes, your period is so intrusive, you have to call in sick to work or skip school. These are signs that you may have anemia because of excessive blood loss. Which certainly means you need to talk to your doctor about abnormal periods!
Thankfully, treatment is available for almost all the conditions that make your period “not normal.” And we can diagnose and address many women's health concerns remotely on the Doxy health platform, or in person when you schedule a consultation with our Houston area fibroid specialists. But the only way to receive help is to speak up, so discuss any menstrual cycle changes with your doctor as soon as you identify an issue!
Women with fibroids know that period pain is a big deal. (Their period pain is referred to as secondary dysmenorrhoea, because it's caused by an underlying condition and tends to get worse with time. Yet other women have primary dysmeorrhea, or unexplained period pain, and that tends to arrive within a few months of the onset of menstruation. Either way, the monthly discomfort is extremely disruptive.)
And yet...sometimes, women don't speak up about this or other intimate symptoms of fibroids, including pelvic pain, frequent urination and more. In fact, according to Duke Health's Ingrid Harm-Ernandes, 1 in 4 American women suffer from some kind of pelvic floor problem. And, despite that large number, she notes, "Everybody feels like they are alone so they don't step forward and say 'I have this symptom, I have this problem, and can I get help for it?'"
Unfortunately, this often leads to delayed diagnoses of conditions such as fibroids. But did you know that it could also harm women in other arenas of their lives, by being a pain on the job, too? It's true: according to one Dutch study, researchers found that women lose almost nine productive work and school days each year because of painful periods!
Periods Take Women off the Job
For the study, published in the BMJ, researchers followed over 32,000 women ages 15-45. They watched how often the women missed work or school, and how often they showed up in pain, losing productivity. What they found was upsetting: 13.8 percent of the women reported missing work during their periods. Another 3.4 percent reported taking time off from school or work almost every time they had their periods. And even when they showed up, 80.7% of women reported being unproductive on the job when dealing with their periods. In all, period pain takes a major toll on women in the school and workforce.
Here in the United States, there's often no room for women to recover from period pain at home. But around the world, governments are starting to help them deal with this fibroid symptom without getting hurt on the job. In fact, in Spain, the federal cabinet is considering a bill that would give women three days of menstrual leave each month. And, in certain cases, women could seek an additional two days if their period pain is intense. The government of Malta is also considering offering workers menstrual leave, inspired by the story of one woman who lost her job after having to miss work during a particularly painful period. And countries like Japan, Taiwan and Zimbabwe already offer women some form of menstrual leave options.
That's something we'd love to see stateside. But, until then, we'll have to try and root out causes of period pain, instead.
Understanding Period Pain
Period pain is awful. But some women seem to be completely knocked out of their lives during their cycles, while others tolerate menstruation fairly well. What's the deal? Sometimes the answer is outside conditions that make matters worse. (As you'll see in a minute) But other times, the reason is less clear. And that's a mystery a new Australian study, called the LongSTEPPP project, hopes to solve.
Conducted by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, researchers will follow 3000 women who've been treated for period pain. Their focus is on young women in their teenage years. The hope? To understand the causes of period pain and offer early intervention before women start missing work and turning their lives upside down. Hopefully, this study will uncover previously unknown causes of period pain. But there's one common cause we're all too familiar with...fibroids!
Fibroids Mess with your Period...and so much more
Many of the women in this study were simply dealing with typical menstrual cramps. Now, imagine if the women in the study were all dealing with fibroids, which can make your period longer, heavier and more painful. We're guessing those absent and unproductive days would only increase!l
Of course, heavy, painful periods aren't the only way fibroids can hurt your body. Studies show that about 30% of women with fibroids also experience painful sex, back pain, pelvic pain or other discomforts. Like your period pain, these fibroid symptoms could show up intermittently. Or, for some women, fibroid pain could be chronic. And, either way, it can interfere with your lifestyle, making you skip workouts, work days or more.
So, that's the bad news...but here's the good. Even if you have fibroids, painful periods don't have to be your forever problem. There are non-invasive treatment options that can alleviate your symptoms without surgery or hospital stays. Want to learn more? Click here to request an appointmentwith our Houston-area fibroid specialists to learn if you are a good candidate for Uterine Fibroid Embolization.
When you have fibroids, having sex can be painful. Fibroids, non-cancerous tumors, grow in and on the uterus. Because they can also grow within the uterine muscle wall or on its outer surface, you may worry that sex won't be safe anymore. Or that intimacy can make your symptoms worse.
Luckily, sex with fibroids, is completely safe. But like we mentioned, it may be painful. And that's not the only obstacle you may face. After all, women with fibroids may get bloated. Their periods may be longer and heavier. They may experience pelvic pain outside their period. And dealing with all of that can make sex seem unappealing.
In order to make sex more comfortable and connected, couples need to first be open to communicating together. The partner without fibroids has to be supportive and understanding. The woman dealing with fibroids should feel comfortable expressing her feelings.
And, once the lines of communication are open, try these tips to make sex with fibroids easier:
Improving Sex with Fibroids
Developing fibroids can impact your sex drive. Even before getting a uterine fibroid diagnosis, some women notice they're less interested in sex, and so they connect intimately far less often. As such, you may need to work on your drive and sexual desire, even before you address the pain that intercourse can cause if you're living with fibroids.
1. Focus on foreplay
Women with fibroids may be scared to have sex. They may have already experienced painful intercourse, or may be worried about what sex will feel like. Focusing on foreplay will give your partner time to relax, and will also ensure that her body is completely ready for intercourse. Both of those factors should help reduce or eliminate pain with penetration.
2. Relax Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Sometimes, anxiety over painful sex can cause you to automatically clench your pelvic floor muscles. Unfortunately, this can contribute to painful sexual encounters. So, before getting intimate, try relaxing these muscles. It's easier than you think, and you can practice at any time. To begin, clench your anus, as if you were trying to avoid passing gas. Then, let it go, and feel the relaxation in the area. Trying this move before getting busy can help you reduce tension, and may relieve some pain, especially if you pick the right position.
3. Reposition yourself.
When dealing with fibroids, once-favorite sexual positions may now be too painful. Instead of getting frustrated, why not see this as an opportunity to explore? Move around in bed, trying out different positions. Hopefully, you’ll find one or more that doesn’t hurt the partner with fibroids. And, in the process, you may even spice up your bedroom routine!
4. Redefine intimacy.
Sexual penetration isn't the only road to intimacy. For some women, sex may too painful until her fibroids are treated. If that is the case for your partner, you can explore other ways of connecting as a couple. From date nights to alternate acts of intimacy, work together to find ways to stay connected.
Treating Uterine Fibroids to Regain Your Sex Life
One of the best ways to resolve painful sex due to uterine growths is to explore your fibroid treatment options. Here at our Houston area fibroid clinics, we offer a minimally invasive treatment option, Uterine Fibroid Embolization, that shrinks your fibroids without the need for surgery or an overnight stay. (You can request a consultation here, to see if UFE is right for you.)
After UFE, most women should avoid sexual intercourse for at least a week, although that recommendation will be made on a case by case basis. But once you've been cleared to resume sexual activity? Because of your treatment, sex shouldn't hurt anymore. And you don't have to take our word for that: according to a 2017 study, after just one year, almost 80% of women who opted for UFE saw a dramatic improvement in their sexual functioning. So, if that sounds promising to you, don't wait another day to reclaim your sexual health. Click here to request an appointment with our network of Houston area fibroid specialists. Together, we can make sex with fibroids less painful.
Sources: Eve Woman
Do you know the warning signs of Pelvic Congestion Syndrome (PCS)? (Also known as ovarian vein reflux?) While pelvic pain, incontinence and uterine fibroids often go hand in hand, these are also red flags for other serious conditions. One such problem is PCS, a medical problem that is triggered by internal varicose veins in your lower abdomen and pelvis.
Typically, these veins are in your ovaries. They form with vein reflux (when blood flows backward in your veins). The kind of pelvic pain connected with PCS is more of a chronic ache; some women describe the sensation of someone tugging or pulling in their pelvis.
Confusing PCS Symptoms
PCS is a long-term condition, meaning symptoms will stick around. In fact, the diagnosis is usually made after 6 months of chronic pelvic pain without signs of an inflammatory condition. Yet, with this problem, the pain can be made worse when you first stand up or first sit down. Lying down, on the other hand, can provide relief from the pain of PCS.
In addition to pain in your pelvis and lower back, PCS can trigger an irritable bowel and/or bladder and painful sex. PCS may also cause visible varicose veins to appear in or around your vulva, vagina, perineum and anus. Additionally, with this condition, your pelvis can feel an uncomfortable sensation of fullness.
PCS is fairly common, and is the underlying cause of chronic pelvic pain for between 13 and 40% of women, according to the British Society of Interventional Radiology. Yet it is often misdiagnosed as Polycisystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) or endometriosis, likely because the symptoms mimic other conditions, and the root cause of the problem is buried deep within your body. That was certainly the case for Johnelle Mercer, a 19-year old woman from Las Vegas who spent years suffering before finally getting diagnosed.
One Woman's Journey to PCS Diagnosis
From the time of her very first period, Mercer experienced terrible pelvic pain. Her periods were very heavy, and she lived with breakthrough bleeding between periods. But every time she discussed her symptoms with doctors, they told her she was just stuck with bad periods.
Sick of being ignored and dismissed, this brave young woman kept advocating to get a diagnosis that would offer pain relief. Finally, at the age of 19, she received that diagnosis: PCS. We're celebrating her as our Woman Crush of the Week for refusing to be ignored. (And for sharing her PCS diagnosis experience with this viral Tik Tok video.)
Also, we're helping you understand more about this hard-to-diagnose source of pelvic pain. Because we want you to find relief sooner than Johnelle did. And, with that in mind, here’s what you need to know about PCS in order to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment:
What is Pelvic Congestion Syndrome?
When too much blood builds up in your pelvic, you develop this painful PCS condition. And internal varicose veins are often at fault. Individuals with PCS will experience a dull, aching pelvis period over an extended period of time. Women are more likely to develop PCS than men, but both genders can be affected.
When men are affected by PCS, the condition is easier to diagnose and treat, because two of men’s four pelvic veins are visible on the outside of their bodies. Because all of women’s pelvic veins are invisible on the surface of their bodies, PCS can be harder to spot for women. Most women with PCS have previously been pregnant, but even women who’ve never had a pregnancy can develop the condition.
Typically, we think of PCS as a problem for premenopausal women. Recently, studies suggest that menopause doesn't always offer relief from PCS. In fact, it turns out that some women first develop symptoms after menopause. Clearly, we need to learn more about the causes of this condition.
Why do symptoms develop?
As we already mentioned, PCS develops because of varicose pelvic veins. Varicose veins in the pelvis begin to develop when their valves fail, causing blood that should be pushed out of the pelvis to stick around in the area instead of traveling back to the heart. When this happens, the veins become dilated and put pressure on sensitive areas of the pelvis and on the pelvic floor muscles (the ones you exercise when doing your kegels.)
Again, women who've had at least one pregnancy are also more likely to develop this condition. And that's likely because carrying a baby brings more blood flow to the area.
Still, we aren't clear why your valves would fail. Sometimes, the cause seems to be late-pregnancy injury. In other cases, excess estrogen may be the cause, since the hormone can widen your blood vessels. PCS may also be a secondary symptom for people with May-Thurner syndromes. Regardless of the cause, the condition presents with uniform symptoms.
What are the symptoms of PCS?
PCS usually causes women to experience pain deep in their pelvis or uterus; the pain is usually dull or aching rather than sharp or intense. PCS pain gets worse all day, especially if you exercise.
While PCS pain is typically dull, changes in posture or heavy lifting can cause women to experience sharp pains in their abdominal area. With PCS, sex and periods can also become more painful.
Some women with PCS also have bladder symptoms that include a frequent need to pee, frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom and even incontinence. Many women will also develop vaginal or vulvar varicose veins. On diagnostic imaging, we'll also notice an increase in the volume of your pelvic veins. And for men and women, PCS can also cause or worsen conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or lead to chronic fatigue and back pain.
Can I treat PCS?
We typically diagnose PCS with an ultrasound scan. Then, your Houston interventional radiologists treat PCS easily, with Pelvic Vein Embolisation (PVE). (This is a procedure that's similar to Uterine Fibroid Embolization, or UFE.) Recently, the Society of Vascular Surgeons endorsed this treatment option for resolving PCS.
We use a local anesthetic for this x-ray technique. Guided by ultrasound, we'll insert a catheter (thin tube) in your vein, pushing into the problematic pelvic vein. Once there, we deposit embolizing material to permanently block off the vein or veins causing your PCS symptoms. After, blood can't build up in the area. Your vein will shrink and symptoms should resolve quickly.
With proper care and a minimally invasive procedure, we can quickly treat and resolve PCS. Our highly trained vein specialists can easily spot your PCS symptoms and recommend a treatment plan. If you’re experiencing dull, aching pelvic pain, you should schedule a consultation right away. We can even meet remotely, with a Telemedicine appointment, if that's easier for your current schedule. Remember, you don’t have to live with chronic pelvis pain—you just need to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment plan!
What do stress, vitamin d deficiency and fibroids have in common? Well, they can all affect your period! And those first two increase your risk for the third item listed!
Here's the deal: stress and vitamin d deficiency may increase your fibroid risk and impact your periods. In a minute, we’ll explore these ideas further. First, however, we’ll give you a quick fibroid overview so we’re all on the same page.
What are fibroids?
Fibroid tumors are firm, muscular, uterine growths. We classify (and name them) based on their location in or on your uterus. If they’re inside your uterus, they’re called submucosal. When they grow on your outer uterine surface, they’re subserosal. Fibroids in the muscles of your uterine wall are intramural, and fibroids that grow like stalks outside your uterus are pedunculated.
Fibroids also vary widely in size. Some are so small they go undetected, or cause no symptoms. But others are much larger, or develop in groups. When this happens, you’re likely to experience troubling symptoms such as pain, heavy periods, anemia, pregnancy complications or even infertility. That’s why we recommend treating your fibroids with a minimally invasive procedure such as Uterine Fibroid Embolization. And it’s also why we’re helping you understand why you get fibroids in the first place.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Other Risks: Why do Fibroids Develop?
Unfortunately, we don’t truly know what causes fibroid development. But we do know they impact black women more than any other group. (By the age of 50, 70% of white women have fibroids. But 80% of black women have them at the same age.)
Lots of things affect your fibroid risk. Current research suggests that a history of stress and depression increases your risk for heavy menstrual bleeding. Plus, stress may be associated with an increased fibroid risk. Also, research now suggests that vitamin d deficiency could increase your risk for fibroids. When working properly, your body's vitamin d stores produce an anti-fibroid effect by reducing certain chemicals that seem to trigger fibroid growth. This factor, in addition to other factors we’ve already identified, including family history, and exposure to the chemicals within hair relaxers, could help explain why black women more often get fibroids. Because, vitamin d deficiency is 10 time more prevalent in Black women than in white women!
Recently, researchers discovered a new risk factor for fibroids: remaining sedentary for 6 or more hours each day! And, while all women's risk for fibroids increased with more sedentary time, one group was most impacted. Specifically, the fibroid risk for women in perimenopause (the transition period between regular menstruation and menopause) is most impacted by remaining sedentary.
In combination, each of these factors can help you understand your fibroid risk. And understanding that stress increases your risk means now is a good moment to check in with your reproductive health. If you notice symptoms such as pelvic pain, frequent urination, or long and/or heavy periods, don’t wait. Seek help right away from a fibroid specialist. Don’t want to leave your house? No problem! Our Houston Fibroids team still offers remote fibroid consultations, via the secure Doxy platform. But we can also see you in our office if you need a procedure. Now, what kind of procedure will depend on your selected treatment preference. So let’s explore your best fibroid treatment plans.
How Should I Treat Fibroids?
All too often, you’ll hear that hysterectomy is the best fibroid treatment. But that’s actually not true for every woman. In fact, many women can find relief from fibroid symptoms with UFE, a minimally invasive procedure which cuts off fibroid blood supply. This effectively kills the tumors. All without surgery, and all while preserving your uterus!
Of course, some women may prefer a myomectomy—the surgical removal of individual fibroids. If this is your choice, just exercise caution. If your doctor wants to perform laparoscopic surgery, just say no to morcellators. They majorly increase your risk for uterine cancer.
What we really want you to understand is this. There are real, concrete ways we can help you manage fibroids, all while preserving your uterus and avoiding surgery and hospital stays. So, if you’re in pain, reach out for help. Request an appointment with our fibroid specialists and we’ll put you on the path to relief. All while protecting you from unnecessary surgeries!
Sources: Seminars in Reproductive Medicine , Journal of Women’s Health Issues. Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
Have you ever wondered, why do we get cramps? Well, you probably expect at least a little cramping during your period. And, if you have a condition like retrograde menstruation, your cramps could be severe. (With this condition, your period blood flows backward into your pelvic cavity. Containing plenty of endometrial cells, this causes cramps as well as painful sex.)
But what could be to blame when those painful cramps show up at other times of the month? We know this symptom can be scary...and confusing! To help clear up all your questions, let's explore a few reasons that explain why do we get cramps when it's not that time of the month! To help clear up all your questions, let’s explore a few reasons that explain why do we get cramps when we're not on our period?
When you're backed up, a stomach ache isn't surprising. What you may not realize is that constipation can also make you cramp! And that cramping won't be limited to your period: it can appear at any time of the month! One easy way to beat constipation? Drink tons of H20 (try infusing it with fresh fruit if plain old water just isn't your thing.) The good news? Even if constipation isn't the cause of your cramps, only good can co
me from upping your liquid intake.
2. Why Do We get Cramps? Fibroids
Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that develop on the walls of the uterus. Depending on their size and location, fibroids can cause a whole host of symptoms including pain, heavy periods and--you guessed it--cramps, even when you're not menstruating. Thankfully, there are numerous fibroid treatments available, many of which are non-invasive and don't require surgery!
Cysts, like fibroids, are non-cancerous growths. The difference? Cysts are fluid filled, but fibroids are muscular. Plus, fibroids form from within your uterine wall, while cysts develop on your ovaries. Now, we're not sure why women develop fibroids. But we know that cyst development is linked to your monthly cycle. Also, cysts and fibroids cause different symptoms. Because fibroids can interfere with your monthly periods and your urinary function. (They could also make it harder for you to get pregnant.)
But do you want to know one symptom fibroids and cysts have in common? They can both cause you to experience cramps outside of your period. (Though, with cysts, you'll likely experience pain on one side of your abdomen. While, with fibroids, the cramps could hit anywhere.)
Still, like fibroids, you can address cysts with a range of treatment options. And both fibroids and cysts can be diagnosed with an ultrasound in your doctor's office. After that, you'll be guided for follow-up care with the right specialists.
4. Why Do We Get Cramps? Sexually Transmitted Infections
Scarily enough, the answer could be yes! Infections like Chlamydia, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), and Gonorrhea can all cause abdominal pain, and other symptoms like cramps. No one wants to contract an STI, but knowing that cramps are an STI symptom is very helpful! That's especially true because many infections go undetected for long periods of time. If there's a chance you've had STI exposure, and are experiencing non-menstrual cramping, get tested in your doctor's office so you can begin treatment and avoid transmitting the infection to a current or future partner.
When some women suddenly increase their training miles or distance, they experience painful, period-like cramps. How could that be? Well, when you run long or hard, you put lots of pressure on your core muscles. As a result, your abs and pelvic floor muscles could get overworked to the point of cramping. If this seems to be the cause of your cramps between periods, rest should relieve your symptoms. But speak to your doctor if this becomes a persistent problem when you run, as it could mean you have muscular imbalances. And that could leave you vulnerable to injuries.
Not sure why you're cramping between your period? Worried it could mean fibroids? Come in for a comprehensive evaluation with our Houston fibroid specialists. Using our diagnostic ultrasound, we can help determine why do we get cramps, and discuss treatment options if fibroids are the cause.
Sources: healthline, webmd.com