Not enough of us know what fibroids are, which is problematic, given that they deeply impact Black women's reproductive health. Health experts estimate that up to 80 percent of African-American women will develop them in a lifetime.
Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that attach themselves to the wall of a woman's uterus. Fibroids can be the size of a seed or in rare cases be as big as a cantaloupe; they can be a cluster of tumors or just one. Black women are three times more likely to develop them than other women, and tend to develop them earlier in life. And being overweight or obese — a problem disproportionately affecting Black women — increases the risk of developing them.
In most women fibroids are asymptomatic — showing no symptoms. According to Womenshealth.Gov, 25 percent of women have symptoms, in particular:
* Heavy bleeding (which can be serious enough to cause anemia) or painful periods
* Feeling of fullness in the lower stomach area
* Enlargement of the lower abdomen
* Passing urine often
* Pain during sex
* Lower back pain
* Complications during pregnancy and labor
* Reproductive problems, such as infertility, which is very rare
In some cases, fibroids can make it hard for you to conceive and can cause you to go into labor prematurely or have a miscarriage.
Given how common fibroids are in all women, living with them costs Americans between $6 billion and $34 billion each year, according to a new study reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Many experts believe that the actual cost is closer to the higher end of the range.
Indirect costs, such as lost wages from staying home from work to deal with side effects, were found to be the leading expense, accounting for as much as $17 billion annually. And these costs hit African-American women harder than other groups.
The actual cost of treatment came in second — with an upper-end estimate as high as $9 billion.
Treatment options include surgery, with hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) being most common. Many choose to have just the fibroids removed, or to undergo other targeted procedures. Some women use medications to manage heavy bleeding and painful periods. But the fibroids remain.
Another major expense related to fibroids is pregnancy complications, which may cost the U.S. up to $8 billion a year, the researchers said.
[It’s] particularly concerning … that fibroids are more common and more severe in African-American women — who may find it harder to bear the burden of lost wages and other costs.
"This most severely affects the population that's least able to bear the costs," [Dr. James H.] Segars [of the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development] said.
That, he added, underscores the importance of finding ways to prevent fibroids.
No one is sure how to do that, however, because researchers don't know exactly why fibroids form. Black women are at greater risk, as are women who are overweight or obese. On the other hand, women who've given birth seem to have a lower risk than those who've never had a baby.
Usually fibroids are discovered during routine pap smears. From there, your doctor might suggest getting an ultrasound or other tests to confirm them.
To learn more about fibroids, read the WomensHealth.Gov's uterine fibroids fact sheet here.
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