Practicing self-care is essential for a woman’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. And yet, a recent Jean Hailes Women’s Health Survey found that more than one in four women aged 36-50 don’t get enough time to themselves each month.1 Between demands at work and home, finding that “me time” can be tough. It gets even more complicated if you’re a woman with uterine fibroids—a condition where the concept of self-care extends far beyond the occasional candlelit bath.
Uterine fibroids are the most frequently seen tumors of the female reproductive system.2 They become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s through menopause—a time when self-care is so often placed on the back burner.3 It’s predicted that by age 50, up to 80% of women will develop fibroids.3
We sat down with Linda Bradley, MD, OB/GYN and professor of surgery, vice chair of the OB/GYN & Women’s Health Institute, and director of the Center for Menstrual Disorders, Fibroids, and Hysterscopic Services at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, to discuss self-care tips that can keep women with fibroids healthy.
1. See Your Gynecologist Regularly
According to Dr. Bradley, this piece of advice is for all women with fibroids—with or without symptoms. “Staying in contact with your gynecologist will help monitor your fibroids and the development of any symptoms,” Dr. Bradley explains. “For women already with symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your gynecologist regularly to talk about improvement, no improvement, or worsening of symptoms.”
Open dialogue between gynecologists and patients can help to establish a partnership in care, which is especially important when discussing all available fibroid treatment options.
2. Keep a Symptom Journal
Fibroids are most commonly known for heavy, prolonged periods. As fibroids grow, a woman may also notice her belly getting larger. This growth can press on surrounding organs, like the bowel and bladder, resulting in constipation or urinary frequency. Other symptoms may include a chronic watery discharge and fertility issues.
Symptom journaling is a useful tool that can help a woman keep track over time of how she feels. By journaling symptoms with dates, it’s easier to be clear with your gynecologist about what you’re experiencing. “It’s important to notice trends,” Dr. Bradley clarifies. “If a woman has noticed her periods lasting longer or that she’s having increased discomfort and missing work, taking a moment to journal those dates and changes can help her be more objective with her doctor.”
3. Get Creative in the Kitchen
With blogs floating around encouraging women with fibroids to eat this and not that, it can get a bit confusing. Research has shown that eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables may be protective against fibroids—but to date we don’t have studies that definitively support any particular diet as a clear path to fibroid prevention or cure.4,5 “To put it simply, a healthy diet is good for everyone,” Dr. Bradley says.
Taking time to prepare a nutritious meal can count as self-care for both body and mind. Not only does cooking healthy meals at home help to ensure a diet full of the nutrients your body needs, it can also serve as a major stress reliever. Culinary therapy, or harnessing the calming therapeutic power of cooking, is now being used as part of treatment plans for conditions like anxiety and depression.6 And the best part? After all of the mindful meal prep, there’s always a delicious and nutritious meal that follows.
4. Move Your Body
Just like carving out the time to cook healthy meals, engaging in regular exercise can be a self-care practice that may help women with fibroids in several ways.
“Exercise may help with pain, cramping, and bloating,” Dr. Bradley says. “It can also help maintain a healthy weight.” Research suggests that being obese or overweight may potentially increase the risk of fibroids, so when it comes to weight management, both diet and exercise are important.
5. Find Ways to Reduce Stress
In addition to the physical symptoms fibroids may cause, the emotional toll they take can be a lot to handle and may impact other areas of well-being. “Fibroids can be quite symptomatic, and the stress that may follow can lead to poor sleep hygiene,” Dr. Bradley explains. “Without good sleep, it can be difficult for patients to deal with life’s uncertainties.”
Lack of sleep and the inability to cope may then contribute to an ongoing cycle of stress.
The American Institute of Stress explains in a recent blog that not getting enough sleep puts the body under additional stress, triggering an increase in stress hormones during the day.7 To help stay balanced, Dr. Bradley encourages self-care routines that include mindfulness practices, such as yoga, spirituality, and therapy.
Above all, it’s essential to notice if your periods are the source of your stress. “Menstruation can be a nuisance, but it should never interrupt a woman’s life or cause social embarrassment with bleeding through clothing. That’s not normal,” Dr. Bradley explains. “Patients get used to tolerating symptoms, but normal cycles shouldn’t derail your activities. It’s important to talk with your doctor to understand what’s normal and seek out the right care.”
ABOUT THE DOCTOR Linda Bradley, MD, is an internationally recognized gynecologic surgeon, professor of surgery, vice chair of the OB/GYN & Women’s Health Institute, and director of the Center for Menstrual Disorders, Fibroids, and Hysterscopic Services at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. As founder of the Celebrate Sisterhood program, Dr. Bradley is dedicated to empowering multicultural women to take charge of their health and embrace self-care.
- Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. (2018). Women’s health survey 2018. Retrieved from https://jeanhailes.org.au/contents/documents/News/Womens-Health-Survey-Report-web.pdf
- UCLA Health. (n.d.). Fibroids. Retrieved from http://obgyn.ucla.edu/fibroids
- S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2018, Mar 16). Uterine fibroids. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/uterine-fibroids
- Chiaffarino, F., Parazzini, F., La Vecchia, C., et al. (1999). Diet and uterine myomas. Obstet Gynecol, Sep;94(3):395-398.
- He, Y., Zeng, Q., Dong, S., et al. (2013). Associations between uterine fibroids and lifestyles including diet, physical activity and stress: A case-control study in China. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 22(1):109-117.
- Wasmer Andres, L. (2015, May 19). Kitchen therapy: Cooking up mental well-being. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201505/kitchen-therapy-cooking-mental-well-being
- The American Institute of Stress. (2018, Jul 9). 10 tips to boost your vitamin Z—sleep strategies. Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/10-tips-to-boost-your-vitamin-z-sleep-strategies/
The content in this article is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified physician regarding any medical questions or conditions.