For those of you that have read my post from yesterday, thank you. I am continuing on with my story in case someone needs to hear this. I struggled to find blogs where anyone was talking about this and learning of someone else’s experience would have helped me.
What do the Doctors recommend?
I have been to at least 6 different doctors in 3 different States (moved a couple of times) in the last 15 years to discuss my heavy menstrual cycle, pelvic pain, low iron stores, and low energy. Six of six doctors recommended I either take birth control pills, get an IUD, or have a hysterectomy. Most of the Doctors did not recommend further testing to understand the underlying cause. I felt like my problems were so routine that the Doctors didn’t have the time for me, they only wanted to prescribe me medicine and have me go on my way.
I have waited so long to help myself because I really wanted to address the root cause of my problem. I am not one to mask my symptoms or add additional hormones/chemicals to my body. I also feel strongly about keeping my God given parts if possible. (Disclaimer: There is a lot of information about menstrual cycle in the rest of this paragraph. Please skip if not interested in symptoms or the mention of blood grosses you out). I have had low energy due to low iron stores, menstrual cycles averaging 26 days apart with 10 days of bleeding and about 5 days of spotting. Sitting through a 1 to 2 hour meeting during the work day has been a challenge (fingers crossed I didn’t bleed through my clothes in the Office – humiliating). Also, going from sitting to standing is always worrisome because this is when I would most likely have a large gush of blood that may easily cause a scene depending on where I am. This problem affects my quality of life and I didn’t want to live like this anymore.
Four years ago, I met a Gynecologist who listened to me and recommended for me to complete some tests. At the time I visited this doctor, I was anemic (low iron in my blood). The Physician ordered a sonohysterography (ultrasound with saline solution). This procedure is EXTREMELY unpleasant. It is done in the doctor’s office and your cervix is dilated. The doctor uses a saline solution along with an inter-vaginal ultrasound. If you have never had your cervix dilated in a doctor’s office (without any kind of pain medication) I can tell you it is painful and feels much like the early stages of labor. From this test, I learned that I had 5 fibroids all measuring about 2 to 3 centimeters with the largest one measuring just over 3 cm. The largest one was also located in an area of my uterus that could particularly be the cause of my problems. This doctor recommended a uterine ablation (cauterization of the uterus), hysterectomy (uterus removal), IUD, or birth control pills.
At the time, I didn’t opt for any of these solutions. I especially didn’t want to get a hysterectomy because I did not want to go through early menopause or lose my parts because I figure they are there for good reason. The uterine ablation was an option but there was a small percentage my uterus could get perforated during the procedure. I didn’t like the risk of that happening so at this time I opted out of all recommended treatments.
I recently met with a new Gynecologist who immediately sent me for an inter-vaginal ultrasound. We learned that 3 of the 5 fibroids had doubled in size in 4 years. Now I have 3 lemon size fibroids in my uterus among other small fibroids. She recommended all of the usual treatments but also included a recommendation of having a UFE.
UFE Defined: “Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat fibroid tumors of the uterus which can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, pain, and pressure on the bladder or bowel. It uses a form of real-time x-ray called fluoroscopy to guide the delivery of embolic agents to the uterus and fibroids. These agents block the arteries that provide blood to the fibroids and cause them to shrink.” (credit for this information: radiologyinformation.org). This procedure does two things really well, it shrinks fibroids and reduces heavy menstrual periods.
This is a procedure I had never heard of before. This Doctor thought I may be a pretty good candidate for it. If I chose this procedure I could keep my uterus, shrink my fibroids, have low risk of entering early menopause and have a high likelihood of experiencing a decrease in all of my symptoms. In addition to all of my other symptoms described earlier, my uterus is as large as a 12-week pregnant women’s uterus. I have been looking slightly pregnant for about the last year now. I have also slowly been gaining weight over the last year for a total weight gain of 13 pounds on the day of my surgery.
I read about each procedure, weighed the risks and benefits and finally decided upon a UFE. The doctor did a biopsy of the uterine tissue in her office (test came back negative-no cancer) and I was sent for an MRI. Then I had a consultation with an interventional radiologist physician who does these procedures. The radiologist was awesome and had the best bedside manner and spent over 2 hours with me answering all of my questions.
At first glance, my MRI showed at least 7 fibroids. The radiologist spent some time going over my MRI just before my surgery and counted at least 20 fibroids (he lost count there so many!)!
Why did I choose UFE over a hysterectomy?
I have waited several years to make a decision because I didn’t care for my options. I worried about not feeling whole if I were to get a hysterectomy. Somehow, I felt I would be less of a woman without my uterus. I worried about entering early menopause. I am slightly scared of menopause. What if I feel differently about my husband after menopause? I should probably read more about that since menopause is inevitable. Also, I learned a hysterectomy may cause me to have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Since I have a genetic tendency towards cardiovascular disease, I really didn’t want to increase my risk (I believe this is a greater risk if you have your ovaries removed). Usually a hysterectomy requires an incision which would require 4 to 6 weeks for recovery. One positive thing about having a hysterectomy is that the fibroids would be 100% gone and be unable to grow inside me ever again. If you are considering a hysterectomy you should read about it and come to your own conclusions, this is where my research led me.
I learned that the recovery period for a UFE is 1 to 2 weeks. There are no incisions involved but only a puncture wound in the groin area. My doctor indicated that I would be able to start walking the day of surgery. There is some risk of early menopause with this procedure too but the risk is lower than then that of a hysterectomy. The doctor warned me that women who get this surgery often have pain that is 10 out 10 in the first 24-48 hours. The surgery is typically inpatient and one-nights hospital stay is required (depends on your doctor probably).
I chose to have this procedure for all of the reasons mentioned above. I’m not suggesting this choice for anyone else, only providing information of what other options are available. This problem affects many women and it’s important for you to know that you are not alone.
Stay tuned for my experience with UFE. I had the procedure on December 12th. I look forward to being able to share my experience with you. So far I am well enough to blog about it. Be well my friends, until the next time!