If you have fibroids, you are probably saying a choice curse word every time you think of your little (and in some cases) big uterine friend(s). Like a bad house guest, they can be a big pain in the rear end. They can cause bleeding, pain, pressure, and infertility. Bottom line, they are not fun. And unfortunately, this un-fun party is very well attended; nearly a quarter of reproductive-age women have fibroids. Furthermore, fibroids are the cause for about 2% of infertility cases.
Simply stated, you are not the only person who RSVPed “yes” to the fibroid gala. While there are many ways to treat them, not everything works for everyone at every point in their life. Women at different stages of their lives (a.k.a. reproductive “stages”) and symptomology warrant different procedures. For those of you who are nowhere near ready for anything to do with the F word (FERTILITY) but want it in the future (be it near or distant), here’s what we recommend.
Fibroids can be treated medically and/or surgically. Medical treatments include oral contraceptive pills (a.k.a. OCPs or the pill), the intra-uterine device (a.k.a. the IUD), Lupron (a.k.a. “I feel like I am in menopause with these hot flashes and vaginal dryness”), progesterone receptor modulators (mifepristone or ulipristal acetate), SERMs (raloxifene), aromatase inhibitors (letrozole), and anti-fibrinolytics. While some of the medical options are better at improving some of the symptoms (for example, OCPs will improve heavy bleeding but not the pressure symptoms), they very rarely fix it all.
Just like when you’re selecting the OCP you want to marry, you may have to shop around for medical options before you land at your symptom-free spot. While Lupron (a GnRH agonist) will do it all, it will cost you in the side effect department. Hot flashes, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, muscle and bone pains, and even changes in mood/thinking often come along with the reduction in fibroid bleeding, pain, and pressure. It’s because of the side effect profile that we don’t go with Lupron as our first medical treatment.
Surgically, the options are limited for women who have not yet had kids. It’s basically a myomectomy or bust. Fibroids have been nicknamed myomas; -ectomy means removal so myomectomy = fibroid removal. While a myomectomy is the only option for you ladies who are not yet ready to part with your uterus, what varies in the myomectomy part is how you “myomectomize.”
The procedure can be performed abdominally (through a bikini-cut incision), laparoscopically (through a camera), robotically (through a robot), or vaginally (no explanation needed!). The approach depends on the size of the fibroid(s), the location of the fibroid(s), and the number of fibroid (s). It also depends on your surgeon’s experience and preference. Make sure you are comfortable with all of the above before you commit to anything or anyone.
As with most things, there are pros and cons to both medical and surgical options. If you like lists (we love them!), here are the important points to note. For most young women who have not had kids but want them in the future, we like to go medical first. Most of the medical options are transient and provide birth control (killing two birds with one stone!). While they will not rid you of your “f”riends, they will decrease many of your symptoms:
Protecting your future fertility, check.
In many cases, with medical treatment, the fibroids will shrink. Fibroids feed off estrogen, so low estrogen equals famine for fibroids, and hopefully your symptoms will dissipate. If medical management doesn’t do much to alleviate your symptoms, you may have to amp up your treatment to surgery.
Surgery will almost definitely bring the bothersome bleeding, pain, and pressure to a halt. However, it can increase your chance for scar tissue (both within the uterus and the pelvis) and other surgical complications. Surgery, no matter who does it, is the real deal. For this reason, you want to avoid going under the knife unless it is absolutely necessary.
The only absolute cures for fibroids are menopause and/or a hysterectomy. For women who have baby making on their mind and in their future (be it near or distant), neither of the above is a good option: major con! It is for this reason that we need to find a way to temporize the symptoms until you get the pregnancy process started. We usually recommend starting low and going high, but only if you have to. Give the easy or simpler stuff a shot first before you shoot in out of the park.
Just a side note: while fibroids are pretty pesky for most of us, some women are completely unaware of their presence. They find out totally by accident during an ultrasound, a pelvic exam, or during pregnancy. And just like if it isn’t broken don’t fix it, fibroids that are causing no symptoms are really no big deal. They can hang with you for as long as you both shall live. No divorce in sight.
If they don’t bother you, don’t do anything with them until you have to. Prophylactic or preventative therapy to avoid future problems is not recommended—no pre-nup here! Fibroids need to be fixed only if you can’t take them anymore. Otherwise, do your best to forget they even exist!