Approximately 20% of women in their child bearing years will experience uterine fibroid tumors (uterine leiomyomas, myomas, ibromyomas). These are benign tumors, solid muscle tissue growths composed of smooth uterine muscle and connective tissue inside the uterine wall or outside the uterus. Fibroid tumors rarely are cancerous.
Western medicine has not identified a cause for uterine fibroids although it is known that estrogens promote their growth once they have developed.
Uterine fibroid growth is regulated by the complex feedback loops between sex steroid hormones and growth factors (Langevin et al., 2002). For this reason hysterectomies are the most prescribed treatment for fibroids in American women.
Fibroids often are asymptomatic. For some women excessive menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia), abnormal periods, uterine bleeding, pain, discomfort, frequent urination, painful sex, fatigue, irritability and infertility can occur.
Most women make their choice of treatment based on whether they still want to get pregnant.
Clearly, removal of the entire uterus (hysterectomy) will completely eliminate the uterine fibroid problem. Myomectomy, removal only of the fibroids, is a surgical alternative.
Either surgery option presents possible complications. Without intending to be alarmist, a surgical candidate should investigate these known surgical complications:
- injury to tissues/organs
- internal scarring
- temporary pain/nerve injury
- long-lasting dysfunction/pain
- recovery time
- potential for equipment failure and/or human error
- effects of anesthesia
- possibility of fibroid return
Uterine artery embolization (UAE), which requires x-rays to guide the therapy application, and MRI-guided focused ultrasound therapy are less invasive options. Possible side effects and complications also should be investigated for these alternatives.
Treatment with hormone antagonists to block the action of estrogen and progesterone can shrink fibroids, but this treatment will not destroy or eliminate them.
Other progesterone-related therapies (certain birth control pills and intrauterine devices) can help treat some of the symptoms caused by fibroids but they do not shrink the tumors.
Acupuncture and TCM for Fibroids
Traditional Chinese Medicine views the cause of uterine fibroids as impeded blood flow to and from the uterus, leading to accumulation of excess tissue. A primary action of acupuncture is the release of energy blockages that obstruct blood flow.
Because hormone imbalances are an observed influence on the growth of uterine fibroids, the known ability of acupuncture to regulate the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland system, and the central nervous system makes it a logical choice for treating fibroids.
Stress induces a number of responses in the body, including the release of hormones cortisol and insulin into the system, thereby upsetting hormone balances. Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective for stress management.
Acupuncture’s known ability to reduce or eliminate pain also makes it an obvious treatment choice, as concluded by The University of Maryland Medical Center.
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Huang YY. Research advance and prospects of traditional Chinese medicine and western medicine for treatment of uterine fibroids. Tianjin J Tradit Chin Med. 2003;20:78–80.