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A closer look at uterine fibroids, treatment and options for women in the metro

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We’re taking a closer look at a condition that is often ignored, but impacts millions of women across the country, with a yearly cost of up to $9 billion in the Untied States.

The condition is called uterine fibroids. It’s a non-cancerous muscular tumor that can grow in and around a woman’s uterus. It’s not deadly, but if left untreated it can cause crippling pain, prevent pregnancy or even cause a miscarriage.

This story is close to me, because my wife, recently had her uterine fibroids removed, an experience that was difficult and at times scary. It was in August when my wife Maria had what’s called a myomectamy - she had four large tumors surgically removed. Maria’s case is not uncommon. Her gynecologist, Dr. Kate Arnold tells me this happens to 80% of women at some point in their lifetime.

“We have a lot of risk factors, we know they start from just the normal muscle of the uterus and then just keep growing,” said Dr. Kate Arnold, of OU Medical Center. “Having earlier periods can be a factor, they sometimes respond to hormones differently, so some fibroids maintain the same size if you put them in birth control, some tend to grow.”

What doctors can agree on is that they’re caused by an increase of estrogen in the body, as to why, is still up for debate. These tumors slowly grow from pea size to golf ball to even watermelon size and bigger, until it comes to a point where it’s too much to bare.

"I'm a stretchy pants girl with long tunics that's how i've been dressing for the last year, because I grew to a point where I couldn't, I wasn't willing to get huge things that would fit this and not the rest,” said Ann Turner who underwent a uterine fibroid artery embolization procedure back in October.

Ann Turner had one large fibroid that was so big doctors say it was as if she was in her third trimester.

"It is uncomfortable you kind of feel like you're a little pregnant woman going around it's kind of like being pregnant,” said Turner.

So your diagnosed, what’s next? What’s available for women in the metro? Well there are a lot of options out there, some have been practiced for decades.

”The most standard straight forward option is a hysterectomy.... if the patient is interested in carrying children later on then there are generally two most common surgical options”” both of them involve just removing the fibroids,” said dr. Arnold.

And then there are some methods that are breaking new ground.

”Another experimental option right now that's gaining popularity is a MRI guided ultrasound treatment. It's completely non-invasive, where they use MRI to visualized the fibroids and the ultrasound frequency to shrink them,” said Dr. Arnold.

There are a lot of options out there for women but one that preserves fertility and is minimally invasive uses what looks like a video game. It’s called uterine fibroids artery embolization.

”What we're doing is we're watching a screen that gives us an image and then we're using different tools wires and catheters to be able to work our way into these arteries," said Dr. Blake Parsons, interventional radiologist - Fibroids Free OKC.

And down those arteries, that feed into the fibroids, go little gelatin spheres called micro spheres.

"What i'm doing is I'm blocking them and in that way they can't get any more blood, so they starve and then they die, the fibroids shrink and relieve the patients symptoms,” said Dr. Parsons.

Instead of a 6 to 9 week recovery time, this procedure is 1 to 2 days and significantly cheaper. But for a long time it wasn’t considered for those who wanted to persevere their fertility. Dr. Parsons tells me new research in the past few years says different, but some doctors are not convinced.

“The thing that we worry the most about in the patients after an embolization, is would that baby grow enough, because the placenta is there trying to get blood out of the uterus but the blood supply is being intentionally shot off, that baby might not get enough blood and then it might not grow to it's normal size,” said Dr. Arnold.

But for those not wanting children....

"It was an amazing experience, I am still amazed, I mean i'm feeling good it's been like a week and a half since I had it done,” said Turner "I feel like it's over, i'm gonna get rid of all those stretchy pants.... I feel, I kind of feel like a new person.”

Ann’s fibroid will take over a year to shrink. And as for Maria's story, she’s fibroid free and getting better and better every day and I couldn’t be happier.

Not every options works for everyone, but it’s important to have a long talk with your gynecologist, know the symptoms so you can get checked out, and don’t be scared, because you’re not alone in this.

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