ATLANTA - Michele Arbet was diagnosed with fibroids at 19. They left her in so much pain, she would sometimes tell people she felt like she was dying.
"And everybody thought, 'Oh, you're dying from a period?' No one believes how painful this is," Arbet says. "When you stand up, you feel like you have a ten pound bowling ball in your uterus, in your stomach. And your legs ache, your feet ache, because everything constricts."
Michele finally got help from Dr. Jason Levy, an interventional radiologist at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, where Arbet works.
Dr. Levy says fibroids are non-cancerous smooth muscle growths in a woman's uterus.
"They can form like a little ball," Dr. Levy says. "And that ball can be the size of a fingernail, or as big as a volleyball."
"You're suffering with pain, and heavy bleeding," says Arbet. "And it's horrible. It's a horrible thing."
"And the myth is that it's only affecting Black women," she says. "This is a woman's disease. It does not matter what color you are, what race, what age. It is a woman's disease."
Weight gain make fibroids worsen, but Levy says your biggest risk factor is a family history.
"So if your mother had a fibroid, if you aunt had a fibroid, if your sister has a fibroid, you are more likely to get fibroids," says Dr. Levy.
Michele had a procedure known as a myomectomy three times to remove her fibroids and leave her uterus intact. This is the preferred treatment for women who want to get pregnant. She also had a fourth procedure to try to relieve her heavy periods. Nothing worked.
"Because they (the fibroids) were all over the place, and they were just the meanest little things ever," she says. "They just suck the life out of you."
Six years ago, Dr. Levy performed a minimally-invasive procedure known as a uterine fibroid embolization or UFE, using tiny beads to block off the blood supply feeding Michele's arteries. Today, the fibroids and the pain are gone.
"I'm wearing white, which is nothing I could've done 6 years ago," Arbet says. "Because there is no way in the world I would have been able to do that.">>