When you’re dealing with uterine fibroids, your menstrual flow can become very heavy. Your periods may also last longer than the typical seven days. Obviously, this can be uncomfortable and, at times, inconvenient. But if you’re thinking that it’s just annoying, think again. As it turns out, heavy periods can actually affect other areas of your health.
How Do I Know if My Periods Are Abnormal?
It’s easy to say that a heavy period could be cause for concern. But it can be difficult to quantify what “heavy” really means. Flow varies from woman to woman, so any major change could be problematic. As a general rule of thumb, however, your bleeding is excessively heavy if:
There are less than 21 days between your periods (longer than 35 days between cycles is also unusual, but this would not be considered a problem of excess bleeding)
Periods last longer than 7 days
You pass large clots during your period (anything bigger than the size of a quarter warrants a discussion with your doctor)
You’re losing more than 80 cc of blood. (Of course, no one expects you to actually measure your blood loss. But if you’re soaking through super tampons or pads in an hour or less, chances are you’re losing too much blood.)
My Period is Too Heavy – What Do I Do Now?
If you think that your periods are too heavy, talk to your doctor right away. Make an appointment with your gyno, even if it’s not time for your annual exam. Here’s why: heavy periods can lead to anemia, a condition that sets in when you don’t have enough iron in your blood. Anemia needs to be addressed immediately, because it can affect your body’s ability to carry oxygen to your extremities. Over time, it can also lead to iron deficiency which, in turn, can affect the body’s bone marrow response. Additionally, anemia can cause symptoms like fatigue, weakness, dizziness, pain, headaches, cold hands and feet, chest pain and even heart attacks.
Once you mention heavy bleeding to your doctor, he or she will likely suggest an anemia screening, to make sure you’re staying ahead of the issue. But it’s also important to try and determine the cause of your heavy bleeding, or else your continued blood loss will likely keep you in an anemic state.
Fibroids and Heavy Periods
Uterine fibroids can develop within the uterine lining (submucosal), the uterine muscle (intramural) or outside the uterine lining (subserosal.) Submucosal fibroids may increase the area of the lining, which gives you more blood to shed each month. These fibroids may also hinder your body’s ability to stop bleeding once it starts.
Intramural fibroids can increase the blood flow that reaches your uterus. They can also expand the size of your uterine cavity, thereby increasing bleeding.
If fibroids are causing your heavy flow, you’ll have to treat your fibroids them to stop the excessive bleeding. Be sure and discuss all your treatment options, both surgical and minimally invasive, when deciding how best to address your fibroids and heavy mentrual flow.
Sources: semcor.ubc.ca, The Center for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research, cdc.gov, The Centers for Disease Control
..When you’re living with fibroids, getting your period can be painful. Really painful. Plus, they may be long and heavy. In fact, periods can be so disruptive when you have fibroids that you may start planning your life around your monthly cycle. And, while our Houston fibroid specialists provide minimally invasive treatments so you don’t have to do that, we did want to share one woman’s theories about planning your activities around your period. Check out what she had to say.
Health Educator Thinks Women Should Plan Life around Their Cycles
Recently, Mayella Almazan, a menstrual health educator in Northern Ireland, told the Daily Mail why women should plan around their periods. Her theory is that, if you really understand your monthly cycle and plan around it, you can reach your full potential.
And she divides each month into four distinct phases: menstruation, pre-ovulation, ovulation and pre-menstruation. Depending on the length of your cycle, she says, each phase should last between three and seven days. Of course, if fibroids have made your period longer, this would affect the length of each of these ‘phases.’
Still, it’s not the length of each phase that’s important, according to Almazan. What really matters, she says, is what you’re up for in each phase of the month. As Almazan explains, “So many women don’t understand their bodies and it’s such a shame. Most of us expect to feel tired or fragile on our periods, and we know about PMS, but that’s where it ends. Instead of seeing our periods as a barrier to our success, I’d love to see more women feeling empowered to use their monthly fluctuations to their advantage.”
Apparently, Almazan practices what she preaches. She says, “I organize my life around my menstrual cycle and it really works. I know when to take on a new project and push myself, and when to give myself a break…create a monthly chart and pin it to the wall. That way everyone [will know] what to expect!’
Almazan’s Four Distinct Menstrual Phases
These are the four distinct phases of your monthly cycle, as Almazan sees them:
DAYS 1-7: MENSTRUATION
Your cycle starts on the first day of your period, and typically lasts around seven days. During this time, your estrogen and progesterone levels are low. During this time, many women have cramps, back aches, headaches or even nausea. Sometimes, your energy levels drop during your period. And for women with fibroids, these symptoms are likely to be worse.
During this phase, Almazan says: “Day one or two of your period will be your lowest physically energetic days of the month, so give yourself a break and don’t feel guilty… You need lots of rest and self-care. But it can be active rest; it’s a great time for quiet reflection. You could bring those reports home from work to read, do some brainstorming and prepare for the month ahead so that when you enter the next phase, which is very productive, you’re all set to make the most of it. It could also be an opportunity to enjoy quality downtime with your family; snuggled up on the sofa reading or watching movies with your partner and kids. Go easy on yourself wherever possible.”
DAYS 7-14: PRE-OVULATION
During this phase, you’ve finished your period; your estrogen and testosterone levels are rising as your body prepares to release an egg. During this phase, many women feel a burst of energy.
That’s why, Almazan suggests, “This is the time of the month to go for it! If you’re an athlete, you will be at your peak…It’s certainly the time to begin or step up a training regime though. The number one issue women who come to me complaining of is exhaustion, so I tell them to make the most of this pre-ovulation time. If you can control your diary, this is the time to schedule your busiest or most demanding days. Your mental focus and analytical skills will be strong. It’s also the time you’ll be feeling most capable; so tackle things you find difficult now.”
DAYS 14-21: OVULATION
When you release your egg (ovulate) your discharge may look different and you may have pain in your side. Your estrogen and testosterone levels will reach their peak. Your Luteinizing Hormone (LH) will suddenly surge, triggering ovulation. And, immediately afterwards, your estrogen starts dropping as your progesterone rises. Your energy may wane again, and you may experience breakouts and breast tenderness.
Almazan says, “This is the time to do teambuilding or networking exercises at work, hold mentoring sessions or take a more listening, supportive role. ‘You may find you have a softer, warmer approach during this time, so it could be a great opportunity to try to solve problems and solve conflicts. It’s also a great time to socialize and cook for friends. If you have a partner, schedule a date night or two. If you’re single, socialize and strengthen your connections with friends.”
DAYS 21-28: PRE-MENSTRUAL
During this phase, your progesterone levels hit their highest point before dropping. Your estrogen will briefly rise, then drop again. It is this hormonal imbalance that can cause premenstrual symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, bloating, depression and mood swings.
Says Almazan: ‘We all know the negatives associated with PMS, but don’t write off this time completely. As your body prepares to shed the uterus lining, you may also find your observation skills are heightened and perceptions are more acute. ‘You can utilize these skills at work; now might be a great time to tackle the reading of a tricky report or something that requires discerning skills. Or at home you could make a list of things you would like to throw out or change. If you find yourself getting emotional, angry or frustrated, don’t dismiss these feelings. Pay attention to your thoughts and write down things that are upsetting you. Once you’re feeling calmer these journals can offer real insight. Some of your thoughts and feelings may have been overreactions, but others could be really useful, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can use your down time during your period to take stock of any issues thrown up during this pre-menstrual period and think of ways to tackle them. Then you’re ready to begin the cycle again.”
While this is an interesting approach to your typical menstrual cycle, there’s one thing you shouldn’t have to do: stay home during your period because you’re in too much pain to go out. If that’s what planning around your period looks like for you, it’s time to consider treating your fibroids.
Even though 70-80% of women can have fibroids during their life, many women don’t know what uterine fibroids are, and sometimes don’t learn about all of their treatment options. Here are a few myths and misconceptions about fibroids explained by our interventional radiologists who specialize in treating fibroids.
Myth 1: Fibroids, Tumors, Polyps, and Cysts are the Same
In a recent blog post, we discussed the differences and similarities between fibroids and polyps in the uterus. But, you may hear other similar terms, like tumor or cyst. Many people don’t know whether these terms mean the same thing, or they all refer to different conditions.
A fibroid is a benign growth and is rarely associated with cancer. These growths develop from the muscle tissue of the uterus. You may hear a fibroid referred to as a “fibroid tumor” even though it is benign.
A polyp is made of endometrium tissue and is usually benign.
A cyst will develop on the ovaries and can be malignant.
The phrase “uterine tumors” typically signifies uterine fibroids, and are benign. Uterine cancer, however, refers to a malignant growth of cells in the uterus.
Myth 2: A Fibroid Tumor is Cancerous
Fibroids are almost always benign and rarely turn into cancer. The difference in symptoms between cancer and a benign fibroid will help your doctor diagnose a growth as malignant. Cancer is sometimes diagnosed during surgery for what is thought to be benign fibroid tumors.
Myth 3: Fibroids Have Consistent, Defined Symptoms
There is no one symptom that will alert you to the fact that you have uterine fibroids. Many women have uterine fibroids at some point during their life, but most don’t have any symptoms. The most common symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding, prolonged periods, or pelvic pain, but there are other symptoms that women can experience.
Myth 4: Surgery is Your Best Option
If you don’t experience symptoms, treatment isn’t necessary, and many fibroids will shrink after menopause. There are a variety of treatment options available if you do experience symptoms. For women who want a non-surgical alternative, want to preserve their uterus, or want a quicker recovery period, Uterine Fibroid Embolization may be recommended.
Myth 5: Fibroids Continue to Grow, and will Grow Back after Treatment
Fibroids typically grow in alignment with hormone levels, which is why symptoms worsen during menstruation. This is also the reason fibroids may grow during pregnancy, but shrink after menopause. We cut off the existing fibroid’s blood flow during UFE, and it is very rare for them to regrow. In one study, only 5% of women needed additional treatment after UFE.
Pretty much every woman on earth has experienced cramps at some point. You know the feeling: that throbbing pain in your lower abdomen, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to something severe enough that it keeps you from your daily life.
Typically, women experience cramps before or during their periods. These Cramps are directly tied to your hormones: they set it caused when Prostaglandin (a lipid hormone) causes your uterine muscles to contract. Called primary dysmenorrhea, the purpose of these types of cramps is to help your body get rid of its unfertilized egg and your uterine lining. And while uncomfortable, these primary cramps don’t last long—they typically resolve between 48 and 72 hours after they first begin.
But sometimes, you get cramps after your period is done; other times, cramps start up, but no period follows. These cramps are obviously not connected to menstruation, so they are known as secondary dysmenorrhea. Sometimes, these secondary cramps are no big deal—it could be a sign of a minor stomach bug or other irritation. But other times, secondary cramps are a sign of an underlying medical condition. And, today, we’ll focus of one possible cause of secondary dysmenorrhea: uterine fibroids.
Non-menstrual Cramps and Fibroids
Before explaining the connection between cramps and fibroids, you need to know exactly what fibroids are (and aren’t. Fibroids are tumors that can form anywhere in your uterus. They are NOT cancerous, although a small minority of women will discover they also have cancer when treating their fibroids.
Some women’s fibroids aren’t symptomatic. Other women experience a range of symptoms. How many or how severe those symptoms will be have a lot to do with the, size, location and number of tumors developing in your uterus.
Heavy menstrual periods, some severe enough to require transfusions
Pelvic pain or pressure
A frequent need to pee, and/or difficulties when you go
For some women, becoming or remaining pregnant will also be difficult with fibroids.
Fibroids can cause many painful symptoms, in addition to cramping, which is why so many women choose to treat their tumors. And, for many women, non-invasive treatment options like Uterine Fibroid Embolization will provide relief from symptoms! Call out Houston fibroid specialists to see if UFE is right for you!
As fibroid specialists in Houston, we know that a fibroid diagnosis doesn’t have to change your entire life. But we also know how scary it can be to learn you have tumors in your uterus—even though they aren’t cancerous. So that’s why his week’s Woman Crush Wednesday is our choice of honoree—she’s getting very real (in a very public way) about her fears over a fibroid diagnosis. Here’s to you, Shay Johnson, for sharing your fibroid story on Love & Hip Hop.
Women Need to Talk About Their Fibroids
About a year ago, Shay took to her social media accounts, sharing images of her in a hospital bed. She’d been admitted for a blood transfusion. But, at the time, she didn’t explain why she needed that transfusion.
Recently, however, she changed all that. Shay explained to her fellow cast member, Michelle Pooch, “There’s a few things going on with me medically that I haven’t told you about. I’m not dying, [but] I do have a medical condition called fibroids.”
In fact, she continued, she has two fibroids—one of them that has grown so large, it’s now the size of the grapefruit. And this, it turns out, was the explanation for last year’s transfusion.
As Shay explained to Michelle, one of her fibroid symptoms is that she has, “heavy menstrual cycles for longer than 15 days, [and] on top of that, I’ve been fainting because I’m losing so much blood.”
Because of her severe symptoms, Shay’s doctor suggested she remove her fibroids surgically (myomectomy.) In telling Michelle about this suggestion, Shay admitted that she was scared—both about her upcoming surgery and about what her monthly periods would look like afterwards.
Providing Women with Other Fibroid Treatment Options
Like many African-American women (who are disproportionately affected by fibroids), Shay has opted to treat her fibroids surgically. And that may well be the treatment option that’s best for her. But, many women aren’t told they have non-surgical options, too. Procedures like Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) can help women with severe fibroid symptoms. Typically, the relief they experience will be equal (or even superior to) that of women who’ve had fibroid surgery.
But, in order to experience relief and avoid surgery, women need to know their options. So, while we commend Shay in this post, we also ask for help spreading the word: there are non-surgical treatment options for fibroids. Now, will you help us help women #ask4UFE? If you do, you just might earn a spot in our #WCW hall of fame!
Many women have heard about fibroids and polyps. And many may be wondering: are these uterine growths similar? Well, here’s the quick answer: no! These two reproductive health issues are very different. And that means that fibroids and polyps require very different treatment plans. So now, let’s take a closer look at each growth. In that way, we can really understand the differences.
What are Uterine Fibroids?
Fibroids are growths within or on the uterine wall. They are made up of muscle tissue. Most often, fibroids develop within the walls of your uterus, then push outward toward the uterus. These tumors usually appear during your childbearing years. Still, they can form at any time.
In terms of size, fibroids grow from a few centimeters up to the size of an orange. In fact, in extreme cases, they can reach the size of a small fetus! Many women who suffer from fibroids feel pelvic pain or pressure, but other common symptoms include:
Heavy, long-lasting periods
What are Uterine Polyps?
Like fibroids, polyps are growths that develop around the uterine wall, but that’s where the similarities end. That’s because polyps are tied to your periods. Once you start menstruation, you shed your uterine lining. It then regenerates after the period cycle. Over time, roundish growths (polyps) may develop as the uterine lining returns. There are two types of polyps: pedunculated (attached to the uterine wall by a stalk) or sessile (attached by a large base). Most polyps range in size from a few millimeters to a few centimeters.
Pedunculated polyps are the most. And they may stick out of your uterus into the vagina. But, unless they protrude, polyps aren’t usually painful. Other polyp symptoms include:
Spotting between menstrual periods
Bleeding after menopause
The Differences Between Uterine Polyps & Fibroids
Now check out the main differences between polyps and fibroids:
Made of endometrium tissue
Formed from muscle tissue
Grows within the endometrium tissue
Develops within the uterine wall
Grows to be a few centimeters maximum
Can reach the size of an orange
Periods are usually irregular and spotty
Menstrual cycles are usually heavy and long-lasting
Doesn’t usually cause pain
Pain can be chronic and severe
If you are suffering any symptoms listed above, make an appointment with a fibroid specialist. Call Houston Fibroids at (713) 575-3686 to schedule your consultation.
When you have fibroids, it can feel like they are taking over your whole life. If you have symptoms like pelvic pain or heavy periods, there are times when that is all you can think about! Well, if there’s anyone who can relate, it’s Andrea Coleman, an African American comedian, actress and fibroid sufferer. Coleman created the Fibroid Chronicles, an off-broadway play, to help raise fibroid awareness. She is spreading the message in the African American community (where up to 80% of women will develop fibroids). She is spreading it beyond. And for that reason, she is our official Woman Crush Wednesday, #WCW.
Inside the Fibroid Chronicles: One Woman’s Journey
The Fibroid Chronicles is a solo comedy show about a black woman’s struggle to live with uterine fibroids. It will enjoy a limited run, in October, at a Manhattan theater called The Tank. Coleman, the show’s creator, is also the host of the popular live law comedy show, “Wack or Woke? Andrea Coleman Judges the Law.”
In this play, Coleman centers her story in the emergency and operating room. She takes a playful look at some of the most difficult fibroid symptoms. From trying to wear an adult diaper to bed without her date noticing, to experiencing 27 hours of urinary incontinence, audience members will enjoy an hilarious take on her life with fibroids. But they’ll also be part of a bigger, more important conversation: Coleman draws attention to the fact that African American women don’t enjoy the same quality of healthcare in this country as do other populations. In fact, Coleman calls out the 2014 finding by the UN that America’s health care treatment of black women classifies as a human rights violation.
Through humor, Coleman helps women understand what it’s like to live with fibroids. She helps them learn to identify some common symptoms, so women feel empowered to discuss fibroids with their doctors. And, in doing so, she earns an important spot in our Woman Crush Wednesday hall of fame!
Every woman knows: sometimes having your period is a pain. Literally. You may get cramps. You may feel bloated or tired. But, as it turns out, some period symptoms should always be cause for concern. And the number one symptom to never ignore? Periods that keep getting longer!
What is Considered a Longer Period?
On average, your menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days. (That count runs from the first day of one period and ends on the last day before your next one.) Still, cycles vary, so having a cycle anywhere between 21 to 40 days is normal.
When your periods are normal, bleeding lasts between two and seven days. You typically lose just three to five tablespoons of blood over those days. But sometimes, you bleed for longer. And, when that is the case, you often end up losing a lot more blood as well.
Of course, a longer or heavier period doesn’t always mean you have a health problem. But, since periods that last over a week could be a sign of an underlying condition, you need to be seen by your doctor if long periods are becoming your new normal.
What Causes Long, Heavy Periods?
In some cases, a longer period means you’ve got an iron deficiency, especially when you’re also dizzy or have chest pain or difficulties breathing.
One long, heavy period could mean you have a ‘missed miscarriage,’ meaning you lost your baby before you knew you were pregnant.
If your periods used to be shorter, then suddenly become long and heavy, you could have cervical cancer or even kidney disease. A more common cause of heavy periods, however, are fibroid tumors, non-cancerous growths that develop in or around your uterus. They could also be a sign of adenomyosis, a condition in which the inner lining of your uterus breaks through its muscle wall.
Basically, a long, heavy period could mean something really serious is going on with your body. Or it could mean nothing at all. But, given the possibilities, it’s always worth discussing this, or any sudden change in your cycle, with your doctor.
As Houston fibroid specialists, we are determined to deliver minimally invasive treatment options to women. But we often have an uphill battle. Many doctors tell their patients that Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is an option. (UFE is a procedure that starves fibroids of blood and oxygen through injections delivered via catheter. It effectively kills them.) And because not all doctors are on our team, many women with fibroids believe they must have surgery. But here’s one woman who’s joined the fight to help fibroid patients learn their options. Here’s to you Evette Dionne, our Woman Crush of the Week!
The Making of a Fibroid Warrior
Ms. Dionne, editor in chief of Bitch Media, has been dealing with fibroids for years (non cancerous tumors that develop in and on the uterus.) She has always felt comfortable advocating for her own best healthcare, but Dionne also realizes that not every woman is equally capable of doing so. Still, there wasn’t much she thought she could do–until one common fibroid-sufferer experience changed everything.
Recently, Dionne had a two week menstrual period, something that’s not so unusual for women with fibroid tumors. She decided to tweet about it, because so many black women like herself suffer from fibroids, but don’t earn their doctors attention, leaving them with fibroids so large their only treatment option is hysterectomy. In her tweet, Dionne said: “Nearly every Black woman I know has fibroids, and nearly all of their doctors have told them it’s nothing to worry about. That’s a lie. You should be concerned, monitoring the fibroid’s growth through transvaginal ultrasounds, and getting second opinions.”
Since sending out that tweet, Dionne has launched a mini Twitter series on fibroid care, hoping her stewardship will help other Black women receive the best possible fibroid care.
Should You Monitor or Remove Fibroids?
Dionne was diagnosed in 2015 with fibroids. She tells Prevention magazine that she gets an ultrasound from her gynecologist every six months to monitor her fibroid growth. She also gets annual biopsies to make sure she’s shedding her uterine lining each month, and to ensure there are no cancerous cells in her uterus.
Still, Dionne says, some of her symptoms are very difficult to manage. “My doctor has experimented with different medications to control the bleeding, and so far, none have worked as intended. At some point, I will have to consider having the fibroid removed to eliminate the symptoms,” she says.
We support Dionne in her fibroid struggle, and we hope that, when the time comes for her to address the root cause of her symptom, she will be vocal in illuminating the surgical and non-surgical options available to her and other women suffering from their fibroid symptoms.
Today, we’re going to talk about fibroids and your bladder: why they are connected and how you can deal with symptoms. First, let’s explore why fibroids can impact your need to pee.
Fibroids and the Bladder: What’s the Connection
According to research published in the Journal of American Obstetrics & Gynecology, large fibroids change the size of your uterus. And, when your uterus changes size, it can put pressure on your bladder, giving you a frequent, urgent need to pee.
That same study found that, when women treated their fibroids, their need to urinate became less frequent. What didn’t disappear, however, was the “urge incontinence,” many women experienced. Urge incontinence is a sudden, urgent need to pee. It means your bladder goes from ‘just fine’ to ‘about to have an accident’ with almost no warning. And, since fibroid treatment doesn’t always clear up this symptom on its own, here are some helpful tips for retraining your bladder, courtesy of the American College of Physicians.
Retraining Your Bladder After Fibroids
The main purpose of retraining your bladder is to go to the bathroom less frequently every day. So, to start off, the ACOP recommends keeping a ‘pee journal,’ recording the number of times, and the time at which, you urinate each day. The goal is to stretch out the amount of time between each trip to the bathroom. In order to help you extend time between toilet trips, they suggest the following:
Don’t rush to the bathroom when you feel the urge to urinate. Sit still and try to hold out as long as possible.
Avoid going to the bathroom “just in case.”
Distract yourself from thoughts about urination when you feel the urge.
Try delaying bathroom trips by clenching your fists or crossing your legs.
Practice ‘kegels’ (pelvic floor exercises) so it’s easier to hold your pee.
Stay hydrated to avoid urinary tract infections.
Avoid beverages with caffeine, since they increase your need to urinate.
Bladder control problems can be embarrassing and take a toll on your life. But, with proper fibroid treatment and some bladder retraining, you can get back to feeling like yourself!
Sources: American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, https://www.ajog.org, Annals of Internal Medicine, https://annals.org