Shelly, a Registered Nurse specializing in Interventional Radiology, assumed her difficult periods were the norm. “I’ve always experienced heavy bleeding and a lot of cramping during my cycle,” said Shelly. “But it got to the point where I was actually permitted to stay home from work for the first three days of my period. I was very anemic and tired all the time. I basically had to force myself to get things done.”
After two miscarriages and developing a heart murmur because of long-standing anemia, Shelly wondered if her symptoms were something more serious. “It wasn’t until my late twenties that I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids at a routine gynecological check-up.”
It’s reported that uterine fibroids are exceedingly common. A staggering 80-90% of African American women and 70% of Caucasian women will develop uterine fibroids by age 50. This risk only increases with factors such as having a family history, low vitamin D levels, and obesity.1
As with Shelly, proper diagnosis was the first step, which involved pinpointing specifically where the fibroids were located. This can be done by mapping out the uterus through procedures like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or an ultrasound.2 Doing so helps to ensure the best treatment outcome.
“I had several fibroids of different sizes throughout my uterus,” Shelly clarified. “I was offered every single treatment option except one.” Shelly’s doctor made her aware of options that ranged from hormonal medications like Lupron to surgical interventions such as a hysterectomy but didn’t tell her of another less invasive yet highly effective option—uterine fibroid embolization (UFE).
“I didn’t find out about UFE until after I suffered through hormone treatments that threw me into menopause and then a myomectomy to remove my fibroids.” After surgery, Shelly endured a long recovery, which resulted in additional hospitalization due to dangerously low hemoglobin and hematocrit levels—two important blood components that subsequently put her at risk for a stroke. In the end, a myomectomy was not successful at removing all of her fibroids. As far as Shelly was concerned, a second surgery was in no way an option.
It wasn’t until three years later that she finally learned of UFE. “I remember working with one of my patients and saw she had undergone UFE,” Shelly explained. “I started to read about it online and realized I was not given this option.” After researching, talking to several doctors, and seeing more patients having the procedure done, Shelly decided to try UFE.
For Shelly, the UFE procedure had no complications. “It was an outpatient procedure with controllable pain for the first 2-3 days.” Shelly recalled. “I was home the same day and by the end of the week I was bored and ready to get back to work.”
After the procedure, Shelly’s symptoms improved dramatically. “I remember seeing improvement just one month after the procedure and thinking, ‘It can’t be happening this quickly!'” Shelly described. “And each month it just kept getting better and better. Before UFE, during my cycle I would bleed for 10 days. But after UFE I only bled for 3-4 days and significantly less. All the other symptoms I experienced before had improved as soon as three months. I had so much energy afterward. I even started running—it was that drastic.”
Shelly’s success with UFE isn’t uncommon. Recent studies show UFE can result in long-term improvement of symptoms such as heavy bleeding along with complete normalization of quality of life in approximately 75% of women undergoing the procedure.3
“I encourage women who are reading my story to learn more about UFE.” Shelly said. “A hysterectomy should not be a first choice unless it’s medically necessary. UFE is minimally invasive and I only needed one procedure. Above all, it gave me back my life.”
- National Institute of Health. (2014). How many people are affected by or at risk for uterine fibroids? Retrieved June 28, 2015, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/uterine/conditioninfo/pages/people-affected.aspx
- US Department of Health and Human Services, Office On Women’s Health. (2015). Uterine fibroids fact sheet. Retrieved April 21, 2015, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html?from=AtoZ
- Scheurig-Muenkler, C., Koesters, C., Powerski, M.j>, Grieser, C., Froeling, V., & Kroencke, T.J. (2013). Clinical long-term outcome after uterine artery embolization: sustained symptom control and improvement of quality of life. Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology, 24(6):765-771. doi:10.1016/j.jvir.2013.02.018