As period nightmares go, flooding all over your cream skirt in a restaurant 60 miles from home probably ranks pretty high. But for 40-year-old Sarah Hutchinson, that was just the beginning of the nightmare. What followed was two years of hellish periods, bloating, heaviness and exhaustion that left her housebound for up to three days every month.
Eventually, surgeons removed a benign tumour the size of a five-month foetus from Sarah’s womb. Her years of suffering had been down to a fibroid – a gynaecological condition so common as many as one in three women will be affected by fibroids, according to GP Dr Pixie McKenna, but which very few of us have ever even heard of.
“As a female GP, fibroids are something I encounter with relative frequency, and a number of the side effects fall very much under ’embarrassing issues’. Menstrual bleeding isn’t talked about enough, and a lot of women just put up and shut up and get on with it,” Dr McKenna says.
Dr McKenna, from TV’s Embarrassing Bodies, is fronting a campaign by pharmaceutical company Gedeon Richter, Talk About U, which aims to raise awareness.
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths, which develop in or around the uterus. Up to three-quarters of women will have them at some point in their lives, but only about one in three will have any issues with them, Dr McKenna explains.
“All fibroids aren’t equal, so some women won’t have any symptoms. But some are large, or in locations which might make intercourse uncomfortable, or make periods very heavy. They might make fertility an issue, or they might be pressing on your bladder or bowel. Those are ones where we would definitely want to intervene,” she adds.
For Sarah, the problems with fibroids actually started a full year before the heavy, flooding periods. “Looking back, from when I was about 31, I had to pee quite a lot, which I didn’t really take seriously at the time,” she reflects.