Being open and honest about real things that happen to real women is the fastest way to smash taboos and get us all talking about tricky topics. Which is why here, Louise, 32, opens up about her experience with fibroids on her womb…
What are fibroids?
“Before I had them, I’ll admit I didn’t know a thing about fibroids. Like any other health problem, you don’t really tune in to it until it happens to you. I was 28 when my fibroids developed and up until then my periods had been fine. Not exactly light, but nothing like the bleeding I had once they grew. It was the big, red flag that something was wrong. Oh and the excruciating period pain, that too.
“The fibroids were found by an ultrasound, but until they were, I figured I was just unlucky to be having ‘heavier periods’, and tried each month to deal with them. I upped my tampon strength. From super, to super-plus, to eventually using a super-plus tampon along with the thickest nighttime pad and that still wasn’t doing the job. Leaking through to my jeans became a regular occurrence. Dresses were unthinkable, as was anything light-coloured or tight fitting. Basically 75% of my wardrobe became a no-go for a week every month.
“Mum was worried about me. Her friend had been diagnosed with cervical cancer and she was on high-alert for any signs, which included abnormally heavy bleeding. I was young and fit but my horrendous periods were getting worse and draining me. After putting up with them for almost a year, I went to the doctors.
“My female GP was sympathetic. She asked me how often I needed to change a tampon and was concerned by my answer. So often! Lasting less than an hour was standard for me. She stressed this really wasn’t right and suggested I have the Mirena coil fitted. The small plastic device, usually used for contraception, would be fitted in my womb and the slow release of hormone would stop my heavy bleeding. Well that was the plan.
“I’d heard that having a coil inserted wasn’t a breeze, but the first attempt was so ridiculously painful I was writhing in agony and the nurse had to stop. I went back a second time, had a local anesthetic, and that was successful. I just prayed that my periods would actually return to normal.
“But despite the coil, nothing changed and I dreaded each month as it rolled around. I stopped staying over at my boyfriend’s house because I’d bleed in his bed and be mortified when it happened – it wasn’t just a little bit. I lost count of how many accidents I had while out and about. Of how much nice underwear I threw away.
Are fibroids painful?
“At one low point I was on my hands and knees at the bottom of the stairs, in so much pain I couldn’t get up to my bed. Another month I convinced myself that sleeping in the bath was the only sensible option – chunks of blood were pouring from me and I was soaking a tampon by the time I’d walked from the toilet to my bedroom. Enough was enough when I began fainting regularly. I was losing so much blood with each period that I was severely anemic.
“By the time I’d had scans and it was confirmed several good-sized fibroids were causing all of this bother, the coil was no longer even in me. The doctor suspected the growths had pushed it out and because I’d bled so heavily, I hadn’t even noticed it leaving my body. Zero energy or inclination for sex meant I hadn't fallen pregnant without it.
“Treatment for my fibroids has involved a series of drugs. Tranexamic acid did little to stop the bleeding and actually made my periods last longer. Norethisterone, which is often given for abnormal bleeding, sent me off-the-wall crazy. The surge of synthetic hormone progesterone saw me go from a confident, happy woman to a crying, anxious wreck, which terrified me more than the bleeding – or ‘flooding’ as the doctors were calling it. I begged my GP for an alternative. A solution.
“I was eventually referred to a specialist, a fibroid know-it-all who promptly put me on a drug called Esmya, a fairly new treatment that shrinks fibroids and reduces bleeding. He was my hero. After a three-month course, I felt amazing. I wanted sex again with my boyfriend and could go swimming – my favourite exercise had been way too risky for a long time.
“But the wonder-drug Esmya isn’t a long-term option and my fibroids haven’t disappeared. In fact, I’ve noticed my bleeding is starting to get heavier again; when I start passing out it will be time to take action. It seems the only effective way to remove them completely is with surgery which seems drastic. I’m only 31 and want to have a baby at some point. I’m worried that because of these fibroids, it just won’t be possible.
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