Fibroids are abnormal muscular growths (tumors) that can appear within the wall of the uterus, inside its main cavity, or along the organ’s outer surface. Fibroids are exceptionally common: Between 40% and 80% of women develop them by middle age. To put it another way, at least 2 in 5 women — and as many as 4 in 5 women — have uterine fibroids.
Although most fibroids are benign (noncancerous), and many don’t cause problems, others can cause severe symptoms that are difficult to live with. For women with symptomatic uterine fibroids, painful, heavy menstrual periods are a common complaint.
Here at New Beginnings OB/GYN in Shenandoah, Texas, our seasoned women’s health team provides comprehensive care for problematic uterine fibroids on a routine basis. Read on as Dr. Rania Ibrahim and Dr. Christina Parmar offer expert advice on managing fibroid pain around your period.
A uterine fibroid — also known as a leiomyoma or “myoma” — can appear as a single muscular tumor nodule or as part of a multinodular cluster. Fibroids can also vary in size: Some are as small as an apple seed, while others grow as large as a grapefruit. Rarely can fibroids grow very large and distend the abdomen.
As you might expect, multiple or large fibroids are more likely to cause symptoms than single or small fibroid tumors. Women with problematic fibroids may experience the following:
Fibroids can also prompt symptoms like frequent urination, trouble emptying your bladder, constipation, and ongoing vaginal discharge.
Every month, your uterus goes through the same basic cycle, creating a thickened inner line in case pregnancy occurs. If you don’t get pregnant, your uterus sheds its lining, and you get your period.
During a normal period, your body releases hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins to trigger contractions that help your uterus expel its thickened lining. These chemicals can cause pain, inflammation, and intense cramping that’s worsened by the presence of fibroids.
Fibroids can intensify period pain and cramping by putting pressure on the uterine lining and creating a larger surface area of thickened lining for your uterus to shed. These influences may trigger increased pelvic pressure, heavier blood flow with large clots, and severe uterine contractions.
There’s a lot you can do at home to relieve fibroid-related period pain and discomfort:
We often recommend taking over-the-counter OTC) pain medication like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve®), or acetaminophen (Tylenol®) as the first line of defense against fibroid pain. For the best chance at attaining relief, take your OTC pain medication as directed, starting 1 or 2 days before your period is due to start.
Physical activity helps improve blood flow and stimulates the release of feel-good endorphins, otherwise known as your body’s “natural painkillers.” While you might not always feel like taking a walk when dealing with a painful period, chances are you’ll feel better after moving your body a bit. Making daily exercise a priority all month long can also lead to general symptom improvement around your period.
Before and during your period, apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to your lower abdomen as often as you can. Continued warmth can get your blood flowing, relax your muscles, and ease uterine contraction discomfort. Alternatively, take a warm bath or shower for some relief.
Rest can help you take the edge off persistent period pain. Try lying on your back with a pillow under your knees, or lie on your side with your knees pulled toward your chest. Either position helps take the pressure off your lower back.
Deep breathing — the kind that comes from your diaphragm — can help your body relax and ease period pain. Simply find a comfortable place, place one hand over your chest, rest over your navel, and inhale slowly to the bottom of your lungs. Feel your chest and belly rise in the process, and hold each breath briefly before you let it out; imagine your pain drifting out of your body with each exhale.
When self-care strategies don’t go far enough, it’s time to consider other treatment options. We can prescribe medications to control heavy bleeding (low-dose birth control pills and progesterone-like injections) or shrink your fibroids (gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists — GnRHa). We may also prescribe iron supplements to treat anemia from heavy periods.
In some cases, minimally invasive surgery to remove problematic fibroids is the best solution. There are several surgical treatments for fibroids, including myomectomy, hysterectomy, and endometrial ablation. The best option for you depends on a range of factors, including your future family planning goals.