Even just the thought of discussing intimate matters with a complete stranger is enough to make most of us blush. So it’s understandable so many suffer in silence when it comes to fibroids, benign tumours that can grow in or on the lining of the uterus. In fact, one survey published in the Journal of Women’s Health1 found women can delay seeing a doctor for several years.
With three out of four affected by fibroids at some stage2, that’s a worrying number of us putting up with heavy or painful periods (not to mention other challenging fibroids symptoms like constipation, bloating, pain during sex, and needing to pee all the time). If you think you might have fibroids, it’s definitely worth speaking to your physician. Not only is it important to rule out other conditions (any change in your periods, bladder or bowel habits should always be investigated), fibroids have never been more treatable.
Here’s how to get the most from your trip to the doctor
1 Keep a diary
It’s important to share as much information about your periods with your doctor. Keep a record of physical changes and how these affect you throughout the month. Write down symptoms in your diary or if you have a smartphone, download one of the many free symptom tracker apps. Useful things to note are if your bleeding is heavy and how long it lasts, the date of your last period, as well as other symptoms such as bloating, abdominal tenderness, changes in toilet habits, and your energy levels and mood. The more information you can give your physician about your symptoms and how they’re affecting you, the easier it will be for him or her to make a diagnosis.
2 Know the lingo
If talking about your periods or toilet habits leaves you tongue-tied, it can be helpful to know the medical terms doctors use. Like ‘flooding’, for example (when heavy menstrual bleeding means normal sanitary hygiene isn’t sufficient to stop leaks) and clotting (lumpy periods). Other useful expressions are constipation (when you don’t poo as often as normal), ‘urinary frequency’ (that’s needing to pee all the time), ‘bowel movements’ (pooing!), ‘pelvic pain’ (tenderness in your tummy), and ‘abdominal bloating’ (that pregnant feeling you get when your jeans are straining at the zip).
3 Do your research
Thanks to the information age, doctors are used to patients arriving with print outs from the internet. While showing up with armfuls of research is probably taking things too far, a couple of pages from a reputable site, or a leaflet about fibroids, can be useful for initiating the conversation. It also gives your doctor a clear message that you won’t be put off with talk of ‘women’s problems’ and told to put up with it!
4 Know your options
The more you know about the treatment options available for fibroids, the easier it will be to discuss the best course of action with your doctor. Not only are there many types of uterine fibroids treatment available now (from laser removal of the womb lining, to surgical removal of the womb altogether), there are also a number of less drastic options. These include medical treatments to shrink the fibroids and/or control bleeding, and others to stop your periods altogether or ease pain, for example.
5 Seek a second opinion
If your doctor is dismissive of your problem, it’s time to find another doctor. Fibroids may not be a life-threatening condition, but evidence shows they have a very real impact on women’s lives – both physical and psychological. From affecting your mood, to interfering with everyday life and even job prospects, the effects can be far reaching. So make an appointment to see someone else to get a second opinion–and don’t be deterred until you find the right course of treatment for you.
1 The Burden of Uterine Fibroids for African-American Women: Results of a National Survey. Elizabeth A. Stewart, Wanda K. Nicholson, Linda Bradley, and Bijan J. Borah. Journal of Women’s Health. October 2013, 22(10): 807-816. doi:10.1089/jwh.2013.4334.
2 Reference: www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/basics/definition/con-20037901