Although few women look forward to “that time of the month," most can tolerate the cramps, bloating and moodiness that often come with menstruation.
But for 43-year-old S. Daniel, a Cincinnati-area college professor, the days leading up to her period filled her with dread. Because she had
uterine fibroids, Daniel' menstrual symptoms weren't just unpleasant—they were unbearable.
“My periods were so painful, I would routinely throw up," she says. “They were so heavy, I constantly bled through my clothing, even when I changed my pads every hour. And because my periods often lasted longer than a week, my symptoms did, too."
All of that changed in 2022 when Daniel sought uterine fibroid treatment at The Christ Hospital Health Network.
Uterine fibroids are very common in women over 50
Uterine fibroids (also known as leiomyomas) are abnormal, noncancerous growths that form in or on the uterus. They vary in size and number from person to person and may or may not cause symptoms.
“Women with only a few small fibroids may not even realize they have them and, therefore, may never need treatment," says Daniel Long, MD, an interventional radiologist. “But some fibroids keep growing until they're several inches in diameter, causing the uterus to expand well beyond its normal size. This puts pressure on the bladder and bowel, leading to symptoms such as constipation, frequent urination and bloating."
Other uterine fibroid symptoms include:
- Bleeding between periods
- Dysmenorrhea (very painful periods)
- Infertility (inability to get pregnant)
- Low back pain
- Menorrhagia (an abnormally heavy menstrual flow)
- Pain during sex.
The good news is several treatments can improve or even eliminate uterine fibroid symptoms.
“I recommend patients explore their options, and not just because treatment can greatly improve your quality of life," says Dr. Long. “The heavy bleeding associated with uterine fibroids often causes
, which means you don't have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. And having chronic anemia may eventually cause serious health problems."
Searching for a road to relief
Daniel began exploring her treatment options more than a decade ago when she lived in Pittsburgh. For a while, she found relief with oral contraceptives.
Her gynecologist prescribed continuous-use hormonal birth control, meaning Daniel skipped the inactive pills in each monthly pill pack to avoid having her period. And when she stopped having her period, she stopped having symptoms.
But Daniel eventually went off birth control to start her family. Her uterine fibroids symptoms came back worse than ever after giving birth to her daughter.
“My bleeding became so intense, simply standing up would cause blood to leak through my clothes," she says. “I also developed iron-deficiency anemia, which meant I was even more tired than the average new mom. So, I decided it was time to find a long-term solution."
Shrinking fibroids: an effective alternative to hysterectomy
Hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus, will stop fibroids from growing and new ones from forming. But it's a major surgery and eliminates the possibility of future pregnancies. It can also lead to early onset of menopause.
Younger women who want to maintain fertility now have several minimally invasive options at The Christ Hospital Health Network to shrink the fibroids either through ablation or uterine fibroid embolization (UFE).
Ablation is the newest approach to shrinking fibroids. It uses radiofrequency waves to treat the fibroids while leaving surrounding tissues intact.
Embolization uses specialized tools to block the blood flow to the fibroids, eventually causing them to shrink and die off.
Both approaches are outpatient procedures with very little downtime compared to hysterectomy. Daniel says she chose embolization because the shorter recovery time appealed to her.
“It can take up to six weeks to heal from a hysterectomy. And as a single, working mother, there's a big difference between a 6-week recovery and a 1-week recovery," she says.
“Because UFE doesn't require any major incisions, the recovery time is fairly short," explains Dr. Long. “Although I usually encourage my patients to give themselves a week to rest afterward, some have told me they felt well enough to return to work just three days after their procedure."
Putting a painful period behind her
More than a year after having UFE, Daniel says she's very happy with the results.
“The procedure itself was quick, and I was home the next morning," she says. “I had a couple of days of flu-like symptoms, including fatigue and low appetite. But that's it. My uterine fibroid symptoms haven't returned."
Dr. Long says Daniel shouldn't feel concerned about her fibroids returning. He's performed UFE at The Christ Hospital since 2001 and hasn't ever had to re-treat a patient.
Fortunately, Daniel is not worried about her uterine fibroids coming back. And she no longer worries about carrying an extra change of clothes whenever she's menstruating.
“I feel like I can finally relate to people with normal periods," she says. “I'm not vomiting from severe pain, I'm not soaking through pads, and I'm not ruining pants and furniture. I barely have to give my period a second thought."
If you need care for uterine fibroids or any women's health issue, you can contact The Christ Hospital ezCare Concierge at 513-261-8007 or ezCare@thechristhospital.com to help you find a provider and connect you with appointments.