According to the CDC, more than 10 million American women are affected by heavy menstrual bleeding each year. This can be caused by several things, uterine fibroids being a more common reason than one may think. Uterine fibroids (also called leiomyomas) are estrogen-and progesterone-dependent, non-cancerous tumors of the uterus and are the most common type of benign tumor in women of reproductive age. They affect up to 70 percent of Caucasian women and more than 80 percent of African American women by age 50.
While not all women with fibroids will experience symptoms — which can include heavy menstrual bleeding — women who do have symptoms may feel they need to “tough it out” either because they believe what they are going through is normal or that it’s something they need to “endure as a women.” The truth is, heavy menstrual bleeding due to uterine fibroids isn’t something you should just have to “deal with” — treatment options are available. We spoke with three women about their experiences with heavy menstrual bleeding due to uterine fibroids and why it’s important for women experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding due to uterine fibroids to talk to their doctor to help determine the best treatment plan for their specific needs.
Laura Funk started exhibiting symptoms of uterine fibroids when she was 12, but it wasn’t until she was 33 that she was officially diagnosed with fibroids. During the 20+ years she spent suffering undiagnosed, she made some significant lifestyle changes to cope with her heavy periods. “I had to plan everything around the excessive bleeding I was experiencing, like wearing certain clothes and adjusting my teaching schedule to ensure I could quickly get to the bathroom, if needed,” says Funk. “I had to communicate specific details about my condition and needs with my bosses, which can be pretty embarrassing thing to have to share.”
Funk was also using multiple menstrual products just to make it through two hours (at most) during the day. “My periods were like, 12 to 15 days long with a three- or four-day break in between before my cycle would start for another 12 to 15 days.”
“I was really, really struggling to be an active parent in my kid’s life. I felt terrible, constantly.” While Funk continued working with her doctor, she ultimately became one of many women to undergo a hysterectomy for her debilitating symptoms. A hysterectomy — also known as the surgical removal of the uterus — is currently the only cure for uterine fibroids. In fact, uterine fibroids are the leading reason for hysterectomies performed in the U.S.
Like Funk, Ra’Nesha Springer also started exhibiting symptoms of uterine fibroids at the age of 12, but doctors didn’t find her first fibroids until she was 18. Because of her heavy periods, Springer started missing classes, though she eventually went to university doctors, who suggested she go to the emergency room. “On campus they’re limited in what they’re able to do for you,” she says. “And because I had such a heavy flow, the doctor said I should go to the ER. That’s when they found my fibroids.”
Springer felt that her condition was dismissed. “I remember complaining when I was younger about bad periods and being told that as a Black woman that it was a normal thing and that I wasn’t experiencing anything unusual. I kind of felt like at times what I was going through was overlooked, which in turn, made me not want to ask for help.”
Despite the years of being made to feel like this was “normal,” she now realizes that’s not the case and has made strides with doctors that listen to her.
Makeba Giles, she knows the feeling of being dismissed all too well. Giles started exhibiting heavy periods due to uterine fibroids when she was 38 years old and it wasn’t until she called her OB-GYN and insisted there was something more going on that she felt that she was finally taken seriously. “I went to several different doctors and they were like ‘Oh you know, you’re getting older and you have four children, your body changes,’ but I knew something was wrong,” says Giles. “I felt really fatigued and it was just getting worse, so I called my OB-GYN and was like, ‘You have to look at me again, there’s something definitely wrong.’ And I really had to fight to get the examinations I needed for them to discover that I had uterine fibroids.”
In November 2018, Giles underwent a number of procedures, during which her uterine fibroids were removed, however just months later, more returned. Currently, her periods last a week and a half. Like many women, Giles is open to non-surgical treatment options.
One option is ORIAHNN™ (elagolix, estradiol, and norethindrone acetate capsules; elagolix capsules), the first FDA-approved non-surgical, oral medication option for the management of heavy menstrual bleeding associated with uterine fibroids in pre-menopausal women. In two clinical trials, more women treated with Oriahnn responded to treatment, in which their menstrual blood loss decreased to less than 80 mL and decreased by at least 50% from the start to the end of treatment, compared with placebo. It is not known if Oriahnn is safe and effective in children under 18 years of age.
Oriahnn may increase your chances of heart attack, stroke, or blood clots, especially if you are over 35 years of age and smoke, have uncontrolled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and/or are obese. Stop taking Oriahnn and talk to a doctor right away if you have symptoms of:
- leg pain or swelling that will not go away
- sudden shortness of breath
- double vision, bulging of the eyes, sudden blindness, partial or complete
- pain or pressure in your chest, arm, or jaw
- sudden, severe headache unlike usual headaches
- weakness or numbness in an arm or leg, or trouble speaking
Please see below for Use and Important Safety Information. Please click to see the full prescribing information, including the medication guide.
While Giles has not personally tried Oriahnn as a treatment option, she has learned how important it is to stay informed. “I’m always trying to stay on top of any type of new information that may come out that I feel could possibly help me,” says Giles. “I learned that you have to be your own advocate. Don’t just take the first word that they give you. Looking back, I know that healthcare has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, which is all the more reason why you have to be your own advocate for your health, do research yourself and get second opinions, third opinions — whatever it is that you need to do to find a treatment plan that meets your needs.”
If you are experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding, consider taking this online quiz to help assess your symptoms. It can be a helpful tool in advocating for your own health and partnering with your healthcare provider to find a treatment plan that works for you. To learn more about Oriahnn and how to talk to your gynecologist about your period concerns, visit ORIAHNN.com.
This article was created by SheKnows and sponsored in collaboration with AbbVie.