Discovering post-surgery I had a 2mm subserosal fibroid was a shock. I didn’t know much about fibroids except that my mother had to have them removed after giving birth to me. That was the extent of my knowledge. I had no understanding of how they impact reproductive health and fertility. But, uterine fibroids are quite common for women in their child-bearing years. Additionally, they are challenging to diagnose since for the most part fibroids cause little to no symptoms. Yet, there are some instances in which fibroids can lead to symptoms such as painful periods and heavy bleeding. Today I want to share what I’ve learned about how fibroids can impact your menstrual health.
What Exactly Are Fibroids?
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths of the uterus that range in size and can develop in different locations. When it comes to size fibroids can be as small as sunflower seed or as large as a grapefruit. They develop within the walls of the uterus (intramural fibroid), on the outside of the uterus (subserosal fibroid), the middle muscle layer of the uterus (submucosal fibroid), or they may develop a stalk and extend from the uterus (pedunculated fibroid). Additionally, you can develop one fibroid or multiple fibroids that vary in size, location, and type. To learn more about fibroids you can read my prior post What Are Fibroids and What Causes Them.
The Connection with Painful Periods
As I explained earlier, many women with fibroids don’t experience any symptoms. This could be due to the location, size, and type of fibroid. For those that have larger fibroids located inside the uterine wall or protrude into the uterine cavity; experiencing more symptoms is common. Specifically, painful periods, heavy bleeding, and prolonged periods.
One of the main reasons fibroids cause pain and discomfort during your period is because of the size and location of the fibroid. Consequently, intramural and submucosal fibroids are more likely to cause pain and discomfort during your period. Furthermore, if those fibroids become enlarged you will also notice more pain during menstruation and additional symptoms as well.
Consequently, large fibroids place a tremendous amount of pressure on the uterus. Thus causing painful cramping and sensations of abdominal fullness. Additionally, you may experience intense abdominal cramping before your period even starts due to fibroid pressure and prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are responsible for kick-starting menstruation. They are secreted by the body to induce contractions of the uterus to aid in shedding the endometrial tissue from the uterine lining. And, they are the primary cause of the cramping you experience during your period.
It’s also common for fibroids that are located within the uterine wall or protrude into the uterus to cause an increase of thickened endometrial tissue to develop. This again will have an effect on the pain you feel during menstruation as well as how heavy your menstrual flow is.
Heavy Menstrual Bleeding & Prolonged Periods
Another complication associated with fibroids and menstruation is the heavy, prolonged bleeding they cause. On average it’s normal to start your period with a heavy to moderate flow that tapers off to a light flow. You may also notice a few blood clots during your period as well. But, when you have fibroids you’ll experience a heavy menstrual flow with many blood clots throughout your period. And in some cases, your period may last well beyond 7 days. Yet, bleeding doesn’t always just occur during menstruation; it can happen outside your monthly period as well.
Experiencing a heavy menstrual flow that lasts beyond 7 days increases your risk of anemia. Therefore having a conversation with your doctor in regards to what you’re experiencing can be helpful since there are a variety of conditions that cause similar symptoms. Getting proper testing and diagnostic imaging can help in determining if your period pain and heavy bleeding are due to fibroids or if there’s another underlying issue at play.
Common Symptoms to Beware
Signs and symptoms that are associated with fibroids include:
- Prolonged Periods
- Heavy period flow with blood clots
- Painful periods
- Painful intercourse
- Lower abdominal pressure
- Low back pain
Additionally, your risk of developing fibroids increases if you have a family history of fibroids. So, discussing your symptoms in addition to your full medical history can be helpful in the diagnostic process.
Common Disorders Confused with Fibroids
There are many diseases and disorders that share similar symptoms with fibroids. This is one reason why it’s so difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. Common conditions that are often confused with fibroids are:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
These conditions share symptoms similar to those of fibroids such as heavy bleeding during menstruation, abnormal bleeding, painful periods, and painful intercourse. It’s also possible to have fibroids while simultaneously having one of the above disorders as well. So discussing at length with your doctor your medical, menstrual, and family history is important.
While I’m fairly certain my fibroid didn’t cause any significant symptoms due to the size and type of fibroid it was. I owe my painful periods and chronic pain to endometriosis and the two large endometriomas on my ovaries. Still, I’m glad that my surgeon removed it and I don’t have to worry about having to watch and monitor its growth. Something else I’m glad for is the fact that I’m more aware of these disorders and how they affect the body. So, I can take care by paying attention to subtle changes that I usually would’ve ignored.
What about you? Have you had fibroids or known someone that has? Or, is this your very first time hearing about fibroids? Meet me in the comments and let’s talk more about fibroids and share our experiences.
(1). Mayo Clinic: Uterine Fibroids
(2). Healthline “Identifying and Treating Fibroid Pain” July 5, 2018, medically reviewed by Holly Ernst, PA-C and written by Jacquelyn Cafasso
(3). Everyday Health “Free Yourself from Fibroid Pain” May 21, 2010, medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH written by Julie Davis Canter