By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.
Heavy bleeding, menstrual cramps, long periods? This could be a sign that a woman has leiomyoma of the uterus. Also known as uterine fibroids, leiomyomas are growths or benign tumors in or on the wall of the uterus. TCM and Acupuncture provide a natural alternative treatment that can help relieve uterine fibroid symptoms.
A leiomyoma, in general, is a growth in smooth muscle tissue. Leiomyomas can develop in any muscle tissue in the body, including that of the intestines, esophagus, and under the skin, but the most common type of leiomyoma occurs in the uterus.
Many women have uterine fibroids and aren’t aware of them. It is estimated that 60-80% of women will have leiomyomas of the uterus at some point during their reproductive years (“childbearing age” – anytime from menarche to menopause). Only about 30% of women report symptoms of fibroids to their doctor, though, because many women do not notice any signs of leiomyoma of the uterus. It is probably rare for someone to have a single fibroid tumor; usually, there are multiple tumors. Fibroids can be hereditary; if your mother had them, you may be more likely to have them, too.
Fibroid tumors can grow inside the uterus, or on the outside of the uterine walls. Sometimes they stay small, and in many cases they don’t cause problems. In some cases, though, they can grow large and press against other internal organs. Fibroids of any size can cause symptoms like painful or irregular periods, abdominal bloating, back pain, and bladder problems.
The primary sign that a woman has uterine fibroids is heavy bleeding during menstruation. In many cases, doctors will say that there is no need for medical intervention. Sometimes hormone suppressing medications are used to try to slow the growth of the tumors and reduce the period-related symptoms. In about 20% of cases, people opt for surgery to remove fibroids. Often the fibroids stop growing and may even shrink after menopause. It is extremely rare for leiomyomas of the uterus to become cancerous. However, uterine fibroids can cause women so much pain that it becomes disabling.
Fortunately, there is natural treatment for fibroids with TCM. Acupuncture and herbs are excellent modalities for helping all kinds of womens’ health issues related to the female reproductive organs. TCM doctors have been observing and treating growths in the pelvic area for many centuries. Acupuncture and herbs can help women with leiomyomas of the uterus, as well as related issues such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts.
Top 10 Signs of Fibroids
In many–if not most–cases, women do not realize they have fibroids, either because they have no symptoms, or they don’t notice the signs as being something out of the ordinary. Some women will feel these symptoms of leiomyoma of the uterus:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding, heavy periods
- Longer periods
- Irregular menstruation, irregular periods, spotting
- Feeling pressure in the pelvic area, fullness in the belly
- Frequent urination (have to pee all the time)
- Urinary retention (having trouble peeing)
- Low back pain
- Enlarged abdomen, belly bloated
- Pain during sex
The sort of heavy bleeding caused by fibroids can lead to anemia. Some fibroids can grow as large as a grapefruit, which clearly is going to cause distension in the abdominal area and put pressure on the other pelvic organs and blood vessels, potentially causing a lot of dysfunction and discomfort. But the size of a fibroid is not necessarily an indicator of whether it will cause painful periods or heavy bleeding. Even small leiomyoma of the uterus can cause pain and excessive bleeding. Emotional imbalance can also be a symptom of uterine fibroids. Leiomyomas of the uterus can cause difficulties during pregnancy, and in some cases, have a negative impact on fertility.
What Is the Treatment for Fibroids?
Sometimes a doctor may discover larger leiomyomas while doing a routine pelvic exam. When women seek medical treatment for fibroids, diagnostic imaging (ultrasound, CT, sonography, MRI, or x-rays) will be used to try to determine the location and size of the growths.
Current medical science does not provide a clear explanation for what causes leiomyomas to grow in the uterus; it is only understood that estrogens seem to contribute to their growth, so the first line of treatment usually focuses on trying to alter the levels of female hormones in an effort to slow the development of the fibroid tumors.
Hormone medications, oral contraceptives, and even hormone-releasing IUDs are often prescribed to help control the heavy periods (cause spotting or no periods). These drugs do not do anything to change the fibroids themselves, though, and obviously, they are not suitable solutions for women who have plans to become pregnant.
For women whose bleeding is so excessive that it becomes disabling, Lupron may be recommended. Lupron acts upon the pituitary gland to turn off estrogen production, which can essentially start early menopause. Many women experience menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and headaches while taking Lupron. It is usually prescribed for women who are planning on undergoing surgery, as it can temporarily reduce the size of the leiomyomas to make them easier to remove. It is not viable as a long-term treatment on its own, though; as soon as a woman stops taking the medication, the fibroids will grow back.
There are relatively non-invasive surgery techniques that are able to remove fibroids while preserving the uterus; this is called myomectomy, which can be performed via incision or laparoscopically. Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE) is a newer procedure that blocks blood flow to the leiomyomas by injecting particles into the arteries connected to them. Some women opt to have a hysterectomy, a major surgery to remove the entire uterus, to get rid of fibroids for good.
Unfortunately, many women think that painful periods and heavy bleeding during periods is normal. Heavy periods may be common, but they are not “normal” or necessary. Women do not have to suffer with terrible cramps and lose a lot of blood every month. TCM herbs and acupuncture offer a natural way to get relief from painful periods and reduce fibroids.
How Can Acupuncture Help Fibroids?
In TCM, we have a category of disorders that we classify as “Zheng Jia,” which mean “masses.” This umbrella concept covers all the womens’ health issues that stem from growths or tumors that affect the female reproductive system, including uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts/PCOS, endometriosis, and reproductive cancers.
According to TCM theory, Zheng Jia disorders arise from internal factors such as blood stasis,/phlegm (spleen deficiency), liver stagnation (fire), and cold uterus.
Top 3 Factors Causing Fibroids According to TCM:
- Blood stasis/Liver Stagnation – Qi (life force energy) helps blood to flow. If Qi is blocked, blood flow gets stuck. Good Qi flow relies strongly on the liver and the emotions related to it. People who tend to have negative PMS symptoms like irritability, breast tenderness, and cramping probably have compromised liver Qi due to long-term stress. Liver Qi stagnation leads to blood stasis, which contributes to the formation of the fibroid tumors. Presenting symptoms: irritability, breast tenderness, distended abdomen, strong emotions, heavy flow during period, bright or deep red color, possibly with clots, and some cramping. Bright red or deep red blood is an indication of liver fire.
- Cold uterus – Habits like always drinking cold beverages (especially during periods) and underdressing in cold environments can cause restricted flow of blood, which, over time, causes circulation issues and gradual development of tumors. Symptoms include: menstrual blood is darker red, cramping which improves with the application of heat (heating pad or hot water bottle) or after passing clots, feeling of being cold all the time, needing extra layers of clothing and blankets (yang deficiency).
- Phlegm/Spleen/Stomach Deficiency – This type of deficiency causes improper digestion of food, creating dampness and phlegm that builds up in the system and affects the blood flow, stagnation that causes the tumors to grow. Symptoms: indigestion, bloating, diarrhea, tendency to gain weight, lighter colored, watery period flow, maybe with some mucus.
When a TCM practitioner works with a patient with fibroids, she will not only choose acupoints and herbs to help shrink the growths themselves, but will also address the underlying factors that have led to the growth of the leiomyomas in the first place. With the right guidance and lifestyle modifications, the deeper stagnation can be resolved, which will help to reduce existing fibroids and prevent more from forming.
One study of Chinese Medicine herbs used to treat uterine fibroids in over 200 women showed a 72% reduction in bleeding, as well as over half of the patients reporting a reduction in back pain and abdominal pain. For over half of the patients in this study, imaging showed a reduction in size or even disappearance of the leiomyomas of the uterus.
Another study compared women receiving acupuncture and herbs versus patients treated with a combination of mifepristone, a steroid medication, and Chinese herbs. All of the women saw some benefits, but the ones who had acupuncture treatment saw an overall greater reduction in the volume of their fibroids.
One of the primary benefits of receiving regular acupuncture treatment is the prevention of blockages along the meridians and in the blood circulation. We believe that women who practice health maintenance with acupuncture are less likely to develop growths in the pelvis and to have better reproductive health and more comfortable periods overall. Acupuncture and herbs can help to manage the pain and bleeding caused by fibroids, offering an effective alternative to hormone medications or surgery.
Top 3 Tips for Fibroid Self-Care
Lifestyle and behaviors contribute to the formation of pelvic tumors. Knowing which habits may cause female health problems can help relieve painful periods.
- Manage stress – constant stress and anxiety have a profound effect on liver health, which in turn impacts the reproductive organs. Regular exercise, meditation practice, and prioritizing rest and sleep are keys to stress reduction. Don’t take on more projects and responsibilities than you feel you can handle. Ask for help when you are feeling overworked.
- Modify diet – avoid mucus-producing foods, especially deep-fried foods, dairy products, and red meat, which are harder for the body to process thoroughly. Undigested foods like this create mucus and stagnation. During the period, the pelvic area is vulnerable, and anything inappropriate can cause extra problems. Choose warm foods, ensure you do not have any indigestion. If you do, address it with acupuncture and herbal supplements.
- Stay away from cold especially during the period, a miscarriage, or post-partum. Anytime there is bleeding from the uterus, the uterus is open, and it is crucial to keep everything warm to allow proper blood flow.
Acupuncture Near Me for Uterine Fibroids
TCM has been used to treat all types of gynecological conditions since at least 1000 B.C. At Art of Wellness, we bring unique expertise to this area of women’s health care, combining over 30 years of experience in both traditional methods of treatment and partnering with the top womens’ medicine and fertility specialists in the Los Angeles area. Find relief from the pain of fibroids through integrative care for leiomyoma with acupuncture.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.