While doctors haven't been able to nail down a specific cause for uterine fibroids -- the noncancerous growths of the uterus that typically appear during a woman's childbearing years -- they have pointed to genetic alterations, hormones and even hair relaxers. But researchers at the Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) at Boston University say there could be another cause -- abuse as a child.
In a study that followed 9,910 premenopausal African-American women from the Black Women's Health Study, lead researcher, Dr. Lauren A. Wise, found that the incidence of uterine fibroids was increased by 16 percent among women who had been physically abused during childhood and by 34 percent among women who had been sexually abused as a child.
"This is the second prospective study to show an association between childhood abuse and uterine fibroids diagnosed during adulthood," Wise said in a release, noting that psychosocial stress could be to blame, affecting how sex steroid hormones are metabolized. Those hormones are thought to be involved in fibroid development and growth, research has shown.
In December, another group of researchers at SEC found a similar link between adult-onset asthma in African American women and abuse as a child. The connection there was also tied to chronic stress.
According to the National Institutes of Health, most American women will develop fibroids at some point in their lives. (Wise said that childhood abuse did not increase fibroid risk.) By age 50, 70 percent of whites and 80 percent of African Americans had fibroids, one study showed. And while many cases are believed not to cause symptoms, with many women unaware they even have them, at least one-quarter of U.S. women do experience heavy menstrual periods, bleeding between periods and abdominal or lower back pain.
Symptomatic uterine fibroids are said to cost the U.S. billions of dollars in lost work days each year.
Learn about some of the ways fibroids are treated in the video below.