By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA and
John C. Lipman, MD
Ladies imagine planning your daily events based around the timing of you menstrual cycle.
Some women suffering from uterine fibroids have a menstrual flow so heavy that it can impede their life.
“Everything must be planned around their menstrual, and it can be very draining physically (from the anemia of blood loss), as well as, mentally from the resulting stress this creates,” says Dr. John Lipman, Director of Interventional Radiology & Center For Image-Guided Medicine, Emory-Adventist Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia. “This can imprison women such that their entire life is tied to the menstrual cycle. They may not work or even be able to leave the house for several days each month. Even if they can work, the frequent interruptions throughout the day often makes this time very unproductive,” he adds.
“Uterine fibroids are the most common non-cancerous tumors in women of childbearing age. Fibroids are made of muscle cells and other tissues that grow in and around the wall of the uterus, or womb. The cause of fibroids is unknown. Risk factors include being African-American or being overweight.”
According to The National Women’s Health Information Center – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, about 20 percent to 80 percent of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50.
Dr. Lipman writes:
Teresa Edwards, the most decorated player in the history of USA basketball, underwent treatment for uterine fibroids recently at Emory-Adventist Hospital in Atlanta.
Ms. Edwards who is scheduled to be inducted into the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame in August, and is currently the Director of Player Personnel for the WNBA Tulsa Shock, had no time in her busy schedule for surgery. She chose instead a non-surgical treatment option called Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE).
The UFE procedure was performed in less than 1 hour. Ms. Edwards had an uneventful recovery and was discharged home that same day. “I feel great,” she stated.
She was back to work within a week and is already resuming her workouts in the gym. “I couldn’t afford the long recovery from surgery, and what was even more appealing to me is the fact that I can keep all of my parts. I know a number of women who have had new problems surface after hysterectomy.”
Most medical experts agree that while the traditional treatment for symptomatic uterine fibroids in women who have completed childbearing has been hysterectomy, this is now unnecessary with non-surgical options like UFE. UFE patients go home the same day with a band-aid and avoid the surgical complications and other issues associated with losing your uterus.
The uterus is very important to heart health and bone health. Women who lose their uterus have a significantly higher cardiovascular risk (i.e increased risk of heart attack, stroke) and risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. A number of women suffer psychologically after hysterectomy (from losing their womb) like a man being castrated. They also can have sexual dysfunction (exs. loss of libido, loss of orgasm) or urinary incontinence.
The lack of awareness of UFE despite its long track record of safety and efficacy surprised Ms. Edwards. This was highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article from 2004 entitled, “Silent Treatment: Hysterectomy Alternative Goes Unmentioned to Many Women. Gynecologists Often Don’t Cite Less-Invasive Procedure To Treat Fibroid Tumors. Bailiwick of Other Specialists.” Even an edict from the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists from 2008 which stated that based on long- and short-term outcomes, UFE is a safe and effective option for women with fibroids who wanted an alternative to hysterectomy, has not significantly changed treatment patterns. Many patients like Ms. Edwards were initially unaware of any other options besides surgery.
This need for education of treatment options has spawned a grassroots movement entitled, Wear White Pants (WWP). Women suffering with uterine fibroids cannot typically wear white any time of year due to the heavy menstrual flow and fear of subsequent accidents that they often cause. This can imprison women such that their entire life is tied to the menstrual cycle.
UFE gives women their freedom and their life back. It is one of medicine’s most significant breakthroughs yet over 1 million women in the US currently suffer with fibroids; many of whom are completely unaware of UFE.
The goal of WWP movement is to empower women with the information that are alternatives to hysterectomy that allow one suffering with fibroids to avoid surgery, keep their uterus, and get the symptom relief they long for.
As the newest spokesperson for the WWP movement, Ms. Edwards hopes she can help educate women on UFE and bring an end to suffering for the over one million women in the US who currently suffer with fibroids in silence.
Ms. Edwards summarized the WWP movement by stating, “There is a lot of work to be done, but I hope through efforts in Atlanta and elsewhere we will get our message heard.”
Smart and savvy patients ask questions
“Fibroids are benign tumors, and yet every working day 3,000 women lose their uterus to hysterectomy because doctors are reluctant to talk about other treatment options,” says Dr. Lipman. Additionally, there over 1 million women who are the “silent sufferers”: sitting on the sidelines and suffering with the bleeding etc. not knowing that they don’t have to suffer like that (or get a hysterectomy either), he added. Many of these women could also be spared with the knowledge of this alternative to surgery.
How many women know that there other non-surgical treatment options besides a hysterectomy for uterine fibroids?
If your doctor tells you that you have uterine fibroids and you need a hysterectomy, are you going to question it? You will if you know there are other treatment options.
Don’t be intimidated by your doctor or any other health care provider. It’s important that you ask questions.
Today’s modern medicine is about the patient. Partnering with your doctor is critical, and you need to educate yourself first to be aware of alternative treatment options.
Ladies if you are told by your doctor that you have fibroids and that the only option is a hysterectomy, that is a red flag. You need to seek another opinion.
Be proactive and take charge of your health and be aware that there are different treatment options to treat fibroids.
An original email to Dr. Lipman from who a patient who suffered with uterine fibroids.
I could not think of anyone else to email at this late hour…after starting my menstrual cycle today. It is still amazing how my mind and body is on auto-pilot to wake up at this hour to change the towel on my mattress as well as my diaper because of the heavy blood flow I would normally receive. I just returned from the bathroom and the minipad that I’m wearing has only a few drops in it. I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BELEIVE THIS!!!
Not sure you remember me, but you performed the UFE procedure on me on 4 Nov 09. Before I heard about the UFE procedure, I was close to deciding on a historectomy. My health and my life was a mess. I was severely anemic…hemoglobin down to 8.1 and dropping, thyroid level all over the place, suffering from urine incontenence because fibroids were resting on my bladder and strapped up like a gangster with pads and tampons! I had pads everywhere, in the car, in my office, in my bible, in every purse, in my children’s luggage, in my boots…etc. At times, I thought I would literally bleed to death with periods lasting 3 weeks every single month. My blood clots were painful and scary! The clots would drop into the toilet like little Angry Airborne Aliens! Sometimes I would stand up and blood would explode into my panties and run down my leg into my shoes. I cried many nights because I felt helpless and embarrassed. I couldn’t enjoy many of the activities I enjoyed because my periods kept me prisoner.
Not anymore! I have my life back and my family has me back. My hemoglobin level is already up to 10.3, my thyroid (TSH) is normal and I no longer suffer from urine incontenence. I just started training for a marathon. I plan to spend lots of time at the beach this summer…in a swimsuit! This summer I can wear the cute, short sun dresses and can fall asleep on my girlfriends couch if I need to. Thanks so much for performing this amazing procedure. I cannot express how grateful I am to you and your staff.
…I just checked again. Still only a few drops. God is good! Going to bed, not planning to get up until it’s time for work.
Thank you Dr. Lipman!!!!!
We would love to hear your thoughtful comments. Are you a woman suffering with fibroids? Have you been treated for them? What’s your story? Can you wear white pants?
As always, thank you for your time.
Useful resources for you
Empowered Patient | Patient Engagement
Doctor-Patient Relationship: How Patients Can Help Enhance Communication
Empowered Patient: Bring a Family Member or Friend with you to Your Doctor’s Appointment
The Patient, the Most Important Part of the Medical Team
Rules of Patient Engagement: How to Deeply Connect with Empathy
About John C. Lipman, MD
Dr. Lipman is a nationally recognized fibroid expert, and has given over 150 invited lectures nationwide on uterine fibroids, including Harvard, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Yale Medical Centers, and is the Director of Interventional Radiology & Center For Image-Guided Medicine, Emory-Adventist Hospital, Atlanta. Dr. Lipman is an Editorial Advisory Board Member and Women’s Health Expert for Sharecare.com (Healthcare information website created by Dr. Oz & Jeff Arnold, creator of WebMD). He is Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA. He has appeared live on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and has been interviewed for USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Jet, Newsweek, The Health Network, Family Circle, and WebMD.