Updated: Feb 3, 2019
Women living with fibroids deal with heavy periods and pain symptoms that can have a major impact on their daily lives. Fibroid specialist Dr. Michael Lalezarian explains the experiences of women living with fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are an undeniably common condition. It’s estimated that between 5% and 21% of women are living with fibroids,¹ with more women affected as they approach menopause. One commonly cited research study screened over 1,300 women between the ages of 35 and 49 and found that fibroid tumors had developed in more than 80% of black women and in nearly 70% of white women by age 50.² While many of these women do not feel the effects of their fibroids, those that do struggle with menstrual bleeding abnormalities and pain symptoms that can have a major impact on their daily lives.
In 2009, the Uterine Bleeding and Pain Women’s Research Study (UBP-WRS) interviewed 21,479 reproductive age women (age 15-49) across the USA, the UK, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, Italy, France, and Germany - with the goal of understanding the impact of uterine fibroids and other conditions on quality of life in affected women. 1,533 of the UBP-WRS participants reported that they had previously been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, making this the largest research effort to date on the experiences of women with uterine fibroids.¹
Bleeding symptoms of uterine fibroids
Heavy menstrual bleeding is the most common symptom associated with uterine fibroids - affecting 60% of women with fibroids - and it often presents with other abnormal bleeding patterns. Bleeding symptoms may be present even in the absence of uterine fibroids, but women with uterine fibroids report longer periods (37%), irregular or unpredictable periods (36%), bleeding between periods (33%), and abnormally frequent periods (28%) more often than women without uterine fibroids.¹ In addition, women with fibroids tend to describe a “gushing” type of bleeding and high pad or tampon use.³
It goes without saying that excessive and unpredictable bleeding can impose a major burden on comfort and productivity, especially in public settings. Many women with excessive menstrual bleeding mistakenly assume that their heavy periods are normal and do not seek care.⁴ In some women, excessive bleeding can be severe enough to cause iron-deficiency anemia; leading to fatigue, weakness, headaches, dizziness, and other more severe complications. Other women experience day-to-day discomfort, social isolation, and loss of productivity as a consequence of managing heavy periods.⁵
Pain symptoms of uterine fibroids
A number of distinct pain patterns are common in women with symptomatic uterine fibroids. Nearly one third of women with fibroids experience painful pressure on the bladder or inside the abdomen and/or mid-cycle pain (around 10 days after the end of their last period). Painful sexual intercourse (24%) is another common complaint of women with fibroids. Chronic pelvic pain (17%) and pain when using the bathroom (11%) are less common but still significant symptoms that are also overrepresented in women with fibroids.¹
The impact of uterine fibroids on daily life
Of women diagnosed with uterine fibroids, over 60% reported that their fibroids had a negative impact on their daily life, with over half of those women stating that their fibroids had a moderate or severe impact. When asked about specific activities that were negatively affected, the most common responses were sexual life (43%), performance at work (28%), and relationships with family (27%). A large proportion of women (20% to 25%) also stated that their fibroids posed challenges when it came to housekeeping, social activities, work attendance, and vigorous exercise.¹
The results of the UBP-WRS highlight the large proportion of women that live with the debilitating symptoms of uterine fibroids. Women experiencing abnormal menstrual bleeding patterns should consider seeing a specialist, especially if heavy bleeding is interfering with daily activities or accompanied by other symptoms of uterine fibroids. Medications may provide some relief and more advanced treatment options can completely eliminate fibroid symptoms.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Lalezarian is a practicing interventional radiologist with the Fibroid Specialists of University Vascular in Los Angeles, CA. In addition to patient care, Dr. Lalezarian teaches and supervises medical students, residents, and fellows as a full time teaching Professor in the Department of Radiology at UCLA. He is regarded as an expert in uterine fibroid embolization. You can view Dr. Lalezarian's full bio here.
This blog post was written with research and editorial assistance from OnChart™.
 Zimmermann, A., Bernuit, D., Gerlinger, C., Schaefers, M., & Geppert, K. (2012). Prevalence, symptoms and management of uterine fibroids: An international internet-based survey of 21,746 women. BMC Women’s Health, 12(1), 6.
 Day Baird D, Dunson DB, Hill MC, Cousins D, Schectman JM: High cumulative incidence of uterine leiomyoma in black and white women: ultrasound evidence. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2003, 188(1):100-107
 Wegienka G, Baird DD, Hertz-Picciotto I, Harlow SD, Steege JF, Hill MC, Schectman JM, Hartmann KE: Self-reported heavy bleeding associated with uterine leiomyomata. Obstet Gynecol 2003, 101(3):431-437.
 Nelson, A. L., & Ritchie, J. J. (2015). Severe anemia from heavy menstrual bleeding requires heightened attention. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 213(1), 97.e1-97.e6.
 Gupta, S., Jose, J., & Manyonda, I. (2008). Clinical presentation of fibroids. Best Practice and Research: Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 22(4), 615–626.
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