When you need a guide to fibroid treatments, things get confusion. After all, at one point, removing the entire uterus (hysterectomy) was women’s only fibroid treatment option. But today, that’s far from the case. While we don’t know why you develop fibroids, we do know that some things (such as delaying childbirth or your race or genetics) can increase your risk. And, we know these growths may leave you dealing with disruptive symptoms, they aren’t cancerous. And that means you don’t need to rush sorting through your treatment options.
Instead, take your time and consider a range of options. These may depend on the size of your fibroids and the severity of your symptoms. And, may we suggest starting with the less invasive options and working your way up to more permanent solutions if needed.
Option One: Leave Your Fibroids Alone
If your fibroids are small, you may want to leave them be. Or if your fibroids aren’t causing problems, treatment may be avoidable. Or, if you’re not getting pregnant any time soon, delaying treatment be best. But, the important thing to remember is: even if you decide not to treat your fibroids, that’s a decision that should be made after a lengthy discussion with your doctor and your fibroid specialist.
Option Two: Live a Fibroid-Friendly Lifestyle
While you may not actively treat your fibroids, you can still take steps to help keep existing tumors from growing larger. And, while we can’t know for sure, some of these changes may also stop new fibroids from ever developing.
The biggest lifestyle changes you make to fight fibroids involve your diet and exercise. Again, while we don’t know exactly why fibroids form, we also know that estrogen can impact fibroid development. Which means that women with fibroids should balance out their estrogen levels, and one key way to do so is by maintaining a healthy body weight.
This means following a balanced, healthy diet, full of fruits and veggies, and void of fatty foods—especially red meats. Regular exercise can also help you lose a few pounds. Plus, some studies suggest that exercise can help minimize your fibroid symptoms, even if it doesn’t lead to weight loss, or even if you’re already at your ideal weight.
Option Three: Medications that Fight Fibroids
Some hormone-based drugs can help manage your fibroids symptoms. They may even shrink existing tumors.
Certain drugs work by blocking your body’s natural hormone production, causing your fibroids to shrink, and stopping many of the worst fibroid symptoms, like long, heavy periods, pain in your pelvis, and the frequent need to pee. Unfortunately, these meds may replace fibroid symptoms with side effects that mimic menopause, which can be equally unpleasant, and force you to start taking more drugs to manage the new symptoms. Yet these new drugs may make the hormone blockers less effective, allowing your fibroids to flourish…basically, hormone blocking puts you on a not-so-thrilling roller coaster ride. Which is why it’s typically a short-term treatment option for women who’ve opted for surgery, but first hope to shrink their fibroids a bit.
In contrast, medications with hormones may also be used to treat fibroid symptoms. Drugs with ‘male’ hormones (androgen) can shrink your fibroids and stop your periods. But they may result in unwanted side effects, like unwanted hair growth, weight gain and a lowering of your voice.
Hormonal birth control can also manage fibroid symptoms, by helping control the length of your periods. They may give you relief from heavy periods, but they won’t do anything to shrink your fibroids, and your symptoms will likely return if you stop taking the contraceptives.
And don’t forget over-the-counter options like Ibuprofen—they can help you cope with mild to moderate pain, without impacting your fibroid size or development in any way.
Option Four: Uterine artery embolization (UAE)
This procedure, also known as uterine fibroid embolization, is what we provide in our Houston fibroid clinic. With UFE, we shrink and kill your fibroids by cutting off their blood supply. We insert a catheter through your arm, and inject it with tiny particles that block any blood from reaching the fibroids in or on your uterus. The procedure comes with an easy recovery period, and is typically performed on an outpatient basis.
As interventional radiologists, we believe in UFE because it is less invasive and more cost effective than surgery. UFE also leaves women dealing with fewer complications, while providing equal or greater relief from fibroid symptoms. While safe for most women, if you still plan on becoming pregnant after UFE, you and your doctor should carefully discuss your eligibility for this treatment option.
Option Five: Fibroid Surgery
In some cases, women may elect to surgically remove their fibroids—myomectomy. And, in extreme cases, they may need a hysterectomy (complete removal of the uterus.) But, many women can avoid invasive surgeries—which come with hospital stays, extended recoveries and, especially with hysterectomy, long-term complications—by starting their treatment journey with one or more of other treatment options we’ve discussed. Want more information, or need help truly understanding your fibroid treatment options? That’s what we’re here for: reach out to our specialists and schedule a consultation, so we can help you make this important decision.
Sources: The Daily Monitor