Excruciating pain, uncontrollable bleeding and severe anaemia have become part of everyday life for fibroid sufferer, Maria Xavier.
The 47 year old was diagnosed with uterine fibroids when she was 25. However, it is only in the past few years that Maria’s symptoms have got progressively worse, causing her to ‘flood’ in public and turning her into a recluse at certain times of the month.
“For the last two years I’ve been having to wear three sanitary pads and change them every three hours or I will have an accident. The blood and the clotting is severe and the pain is so bad that I almost passed out once. I literally don’t go out when I’m having my period.”
Maria, who has four children ranging in age from 14 to 28 years, was diagnosed with fibroids during a routine scan when she was pregnant with her second child.
“They said I had two or three small ones and that it was common in Afro-Caribbean women like me and not to worry about it. I had no idea what fibroids were – I thought they sounded like aliens!”
“They didn’t cause me any trouble at first but when I was 42 my periods started getting worse and that’s when the problems started.”
Uterine fibroids – benign (non-cancerous) lumps that develop in the womb – are common, with around 40 in every 100 women developing them at some time in their life.
They most often occur in women aged from 30-50 years old, but can develop in women younger and older. Fibroids are more common in Afro-Caribbean women and they also tend to be larger and more numerous.
Many women are unaware that they have fibroids because they have no symptoms. However, around one in every three women with fibroids experience some symptoms that may include heavy, long and painful periods, bleeding between periods, feeling ‘full’ in the lower part of the stomach, pain or discomfort during sex, problems getting pregnant and miscarriages.
Maria, a Family Support Worker for London Local Authority and the NHS, explained how having fibroids affects her everyday life.
“It does affect my work because I have to make a lot of home visits as part of my job. If I’m on my period and have several appointments I will cancel some as I’m frightening of flooding in someone’s house.
“I get constipation because of the fibroids and one of them is resting on my bladder which causes urine infections. I’m also anaemic because I’m losing so much blood.”
Maria’s last scan in November 2014 showed that she has multiple fibroids, three of which are medium sized. She takes medication to stop the pain and reduce the bleeding, which gives her some relief. However, Maria is going back to see her gynaecologist to explore other treatment options.
“I feel that I have tried to manage the fibroids as best I can and have done things like change my diet which has helped. But I now want to see a specialist to see what other options there are.
“I don’t want to have a hysterectomy or another major operation but I’m hopeful that there will be some other treatments available to me.”
Maria, who also has several family members who suffer from fibroids, urges other women who suspect they may have the condition to seek help.
“Go and talk to your doctor if you think you might have a problem and ask to be referred to a gynaecologist. Things have changed since I was younger – in the 1980s people didn’t talk about periods and women’s problems and you just suffered in silence.
“There are treatments out there for fibroids – make sure you know all the choices available so you can find the best one for you.”
For further information about fibroids, including the causes, symptoms and treatment options, visit the patient website www.fibroidsconnect.com , the British Fibroid Trust at www.britishfibroidtrust.org.uk or NHS Choices at www.nhs.uk
 NHS Choices 1, Fibroids, at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Fibroids/Pages/Introduction.aspx (accessed February 2015)