Heavy menstrual periods are a frustration for many women.
Yet for some, heavy periods are caused by fibroids in the uterus and can lead to negative health effects, such as low iron levels and depleted energy.
Rebecca*, a 41-year-old woman, visited the Wholistic Medical Centre suffering from fatigue and heavy menstrual periods. An ultrasound 12 months ago found that she had two fibroids in her uterus of around 6cm in size, and a more recent ultrasound scan showed that they had now grown to around 10cm.
Rebecca’s cycle was of normal length and duration, but for the first two days of her period, her menstrual flow was extremely heavy, with big clots and some pain. The blood flow was particularly heavy whenever she moved, which meant that her work and lifestyle were severely restricted for several days each month. She also needed to sleep with a towel underneath her as well as using both pads and tampons to manage the heavy bleeding.
After each period she felt exhausted. Tests revealed that Rebecca’s heavy blood loss each month was causing low iron levels and as such, low energy.
So what are fibroids?
Fibroids (also called myomas) are benign (non-cancerous) growths within the muscle tissue of the uterus and they can grow to the size of a melon or a 6-7 month pregnancy. They are relatively common; 20-50% of women of childbearing age have them. Many women with fibroids have no symptoms, whilst others experience heavy bleeding, prolonged periods, pelvic pressure or pain, pain during intercourse, pressure on the bladder causing difficult or frequent urination, pressure on the bowel causing constipation and/or bloating, and/or an enlarged abdomen.
Fibroids are not usually harmful, but because they can increase the surface area of the uterine lining, they may cause very heavy periods as the lining is shed each month, which can then lead to anemia and low energy levels.
Mainstream medicine offers several treatment options including surgery to remove the fibroids, hysterectomy to remove the uterus and the fibroids, blocking the blood flow to the fibroids or hormone treatments. Rebecca had previously had three fibroids surgically removed 6 years ago, but they had returned within 6 months of the surgery and were continuing to grow.
This time she wanted to see if Chinese medicine could help with her symptoms of heavy bleeding and fatigue.
Traditional Chinese medicine may be helpful in treating symptoms of fibroids. (1) (2)
Rebecca was given two different Chinese herbal formulas along with an iron supplement, specifically designed to suit her symptoms and presentation. She used the first formula during her period to help control the heaviness of her menstrual flow, and she took a second formula during the rest of her cycle to treat the fibroids. Because her periods only lasted for four days, she was able to use the second formula for over three weeks each month.
Within a few months of taking Chinese medicine for fibroids, Rebecca’s periods were much lighter, her energy had improved and she was feeling much better overall. After four months of treatment, a follow-up ultrasound scan showed that her fibroids had reduced in size.
Once a woman reaches menopause, the symptoms of fibroids and their associated side effects (like anemia) will stop. The cycle of hormones stimulating the uterine lining to grow and she will cease and fibroids will often shrink with the reduced hormonal activity.