THE BLOG

Young African-American Women Affected Most by Uterine Fibroids

10/17/2013 10:04 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Tasha Mitchell Mom, creative director, and advocate for social justice

A recent study in the Journal of Women's Health revealed that young African-American women, ages 29-39, suffer the most complications from uterine fibroids. I can relate as I -- and so many other women I know -- have experienced health issues and lifestyle disruptions due to fibroid tumors. "The Burden of Uterine Fibroids for African-American Women" study outlines the medical, emotional, and economical challenges faced by this group of women, who are nearly three times more likely to be affected by the condition.

"Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to prevent complications from fibroids," says Elizabeth A. Stewart, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Mayo Clinic. While 42 percent of African-American women surveyed waited four or more years before seeking treatments, Dr. Stewart recommends "seeking help when you first start to have symptoms, and being persistent in asking for all available treatments are keys to good outcomes from fibroid treatment."

Forty-four percent of African-American women who participated in the study visited two or more specialists before doctors detected fibroids. From my personal experience, I went to four doctors to treat heavy, painful menses. After two gynecologists recommended birth control to regulate my cycle, I sought acupuncture as a natural alternative. The practitioner detected an underlying issue and referred me to a third gynecologist to check for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and fibroids. A uterine sonogram revealed both.

My doctor scheduled myomectomy surgery to remove the growing fibroid. But heavy menses brought on anemia and very low iron, which delayed the procedure for two months. In the interim, I underwent regular iron injections and Lupron treatments, which stops heavy bleeding, but temporarily induces menopause. Luckily, I was able to adjust to these lifestyle changes while on medical leave from my job. But as the study reports, "African-American women were 77 percent more likely to miss work" and fear job loss as a result.

The myomectomy was an outpatient procedure that didn't require any invasive cutting. I was able to conceive two years after the surgery. But this is not always the case for other African-American women with uterine fibroids. According to the study, doctors perform hysterectomies -- full uterus removal -- in 49 percent of uterine fibroid patients. If African-American women of childbearing age wish to preserve fertility, they must consider alternative treatments.

Diet and lifestyle changes have also improved the quality of my life. I limit dairy, meat, and soy consumption, and haven't used a hair relaxer in four years. A study released last year indicates increased risk of uterine fibroids in African-American women who use hair chemicals. I also no longer use birth control, which caused my fibroid to double in size right before the myomectomy. Since the surgery, my cycle has been normal and painless for the first time ever. What a relief.

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