If you’re tired of worrying constantly about heavy periods — and you’re tired of being so tired all of the time — we can help. At USA Fibroid Centers, abnormal menstrual bleeding and fatigue are two of the most common symptoms of uterine fibroids that we see. As one of our fibroid specialists, Dr. Jacob White, describes, “Bleeding can be lengthy (‘I bleed for 20 days every month!’), unpredictable (‘I bleed off and on at random times!’), or heavy (‘I have to use a tampon, plus-sized pad, cross my legs, and not laugh or blood will come pouring out!’).”
Beyond the mess and inconvenience of it all, excessive blood loss can lead to anemia from fibroids, a condition which can leave you feeling tired and weak. Such fatigue can affect your career, relationships, and ability to perform even basic daily tasks. Although people with fibroids are undoubtedly at risk, we want you to know that when it comes to heavy menstrual bleeding and anemia due to fibroids, effective treatment is available.
Our fibroid experts offer a nonsurgical, outpatient procedure called Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) that can shrink your fibroids, reduce your bleeding, gain control of your anemia, and help manage any other fibroid related symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
Fibroids and Anemia
Anemia is a condition when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to different parts of the body, or there is a shortage of iron-rich protein called hemoglobin (Hb).
Signs of Anemia
- Loss of blood (most common)
- Decreased or faulty production of red blood cells
- Destruction of red blood cells
Anemia comes in a few different forms:
- Iron deficiency anemia: This is the most common type of anemia which is characterized by the overall decrease in the number of red blood cells (RBCs) and the level of hemoglobin.
- Pernicious anemia This anemia occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough intrinsic factor, a type of protein that binds with vitamin B12 for its easy absorption in the small intestine. Without a sufficient amount of intrinsic factor, the body can’t produce an optimum amount of RBCs.
- Hemolytic anemia: This condition occurs when RBCs die before their normal lifespan of four months or are destroyed prematurely. The bone marrow isn’t able to produce enough RBCs to replenish the lost ones, decreasing the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen.
- Thalassemia: The condition is characterized when the body produces an abnormal form of hemoglobin that causes premature destruction of RBCs.
- Aplastic anemia: This rare form of anemia is caused due to the decrease in normal levels of RBCs, white blood cells (WBCs) and platelets in the blood.
“Mild anemia is usually asymptomatic and most patients don’t even know they have it,” Dr. White explains. “But as it progresses to moderate or severe anemia, the RBCs are so depleted that symptoms start to set in.”
These can include:
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Shortness of breath
- Unusually rapid heart beat
- Pale or yellow skin
- Cold hands and feet
A doctor will diagnose anemia based on your medical and family histories, a physical exam, and results from tests such as a Complete Blood Count (CBC). Because anemia from fibroids (and other causes) doesn’t always cause symptoms, your doctor may find out you have it while checking for another condition.
CBC testing for anemia due to fibroids involves:
- Checking your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels. Hemoglobin is a protein containing that carries oxygen throughout the body and is located within the red blood cells. Hematocrit measures how many red blood cells there are in your blood. If the CBC notices a low level of hemoglobin or hematocrit in your system, this could be a sign of anemia.
- Counting the number of RBCs and WBCs, as well as platelets in your blood. This is important to rule out any other disorders or infections that could signify a different condition.
- Testing the mean corpuscular volume (MCV). This can indicate what type of anemia you may have and what the root cause of your condition is from.
Can Fibroids Cause Anemia?
Fibroids are the most common tumors of the female reproductive tract. Although noncancerous, they can present a range of symptoms such as:
- Heavy or prolonged menstruation
- Anemia-induced fatigue
- Pelvic or lower back pain
- Stomach bloating
- Frequent urination
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Severe cramps or pelvic pressure
Fibroids can range in size from that of a tiny pea to as large as a melon. Even when they are small, fibroids can cause heavy, prolonged periods or bleeding between menstrual cycles — leading to issues relating to fibroids and anemia. They can increase the area of the uterine lining and menstrual flow and decrease the natural ability of the lining to stop the bleeding. Increased bleeding in the uterine cavity due to fibroids may result in the formation of clots which can cause pain due to distension of the womb and passage of the clots.
Specifically, different kinds of fibroids may cause more bleeding than others. Submucosal fibroids located within the uterine lining can cause severe bleeding by increasing the area of the lining and thus the flow of menstrual cycles. Moreover, fibroids lying within the uterine muscle (intramural fibroids) may increase blood flow to the uterus, thus affecting its ability to control blood and increase the size of the uterine cavity; all these factors collectively result in increased menstrual flow.
Blood Loss From Fibroids
In addition to the loss of blood cells from the body, heavy bleeding can lead to iron deficiency — causing reduced bone marrow and worsening the degree of anemia. Be sure to address fibroids and low iron with your doctor by asking about an iron supplement for fibroids and discussing ways to avoid severe anemia due to fibroids. Iron supplementation can boost the body’s ability to make more red blood cells.
“Iron pills are readily available and easy to take (aside from a frequent side effect of constipation), but this only provides a small boost to the body’s ability to make red blood cells and cannot compensate for more serious cases of anemia,” shares Dr. White. “Intravenous iron infusion can provide much more iron for the body to make more red blood cells, but those iron stores will be depleted within a few weeks or months if a fibroid is bleeding heavily. The worst-case scenario is such severe anemia that a blood transfusion is required.”
If left untreated, anemia can cause life-threatening complications such as congestive heart failure, angina, arrhythmia or heart attack. The good news is that after treatment with Uterine Fibroid Embolization, most patients with fibroids and anemia experience a major reduction of anemic symptoms. Without the heavy bleeding, the body’s natural processes for manufacturing red blood cells are able to reverse the anemia — and red blood cell levels will return to normal within a month or two. In most cases, anemia and fibroid symptoms will fade away, and no further iron supplementation will be needed.
Fibroids and Anemia: Treatment with Uterine Fibroid Embolization
The best approach to control anemia due to fibroids is to treat the underlying cause: Your fibroids.
“Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally-invasive same-day procedure that treats fibroids so they no longer cause heavy bleeding. The remainder of the uterus and the ovaries are unaffected, but the fibroids are treated from the inside, cutting off their blood supply to completely solve the problem,” says Dr. White. “Within a few weeks of the procedure the period will normalize and will be MUCH lighter blood flow. Without the heavy bleeding the body’s natural processes for manufacturing red blood cells are able to reverse the anemia and the red blood cell levels will return to normal within a month or two, any anemic symptoms will fade away, and no further iron supplementation will be needed.”
Keep in mind that heavy menstrual bleeding can also be a result of other causes like hormonal imbalance, dysfunction of ovaries, uterine polyps, poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, adenomyosis, or anti-inflammatory medications. The exact cause of anemia must be ascertained before opting for a fibroids and anemia treatment method.
If you are concerned about anemia and fibroids, schedule a consultation or simply call us at 855.615.2555. UFE is covered by most major health insurance plans.