Did you know that uterine fibroids affect African American Women three times more than Caucasian women? African American women are hit harder by fibroids, suffering from more severe symptoms than any other group of women. Because of this, African American women undergo more unnecessary hysterectomies than any other ethnicity. Uterine fibroids are still the leading cause of hysterectomy today but removing a woman’s uterus should be the last resort.
Why Do Fibroids Disproportionately Impact Black Women?
Researchers have offered some clues, but the reasons behind why African American women develop fibroids at younger ages and experience more numerous, as well as larger fibroids, are still unclear.
Potential links between the two include obesity, stress, low Vitamin D levels, heredity, and starting menstrual cycles at an earlier age. More research needs to be done to determine why Black Women get fibroids more often and with more severe symptoms.
African American Women Have The Highest Fibroid Related Hysterectomy Rates
African American women have the highest hysterectomy rates among all women with about a third of them performed during prime childbearing years and before they reach their mid-forties.
One reason that African American women undergo hysterectomies more often than any other ethnicity is that as Black women, they are three times more likely to experience severe cases of fibroids. But another reason that may be surprising to learn is related to communication among women in the African American community.
Is A Lack Of Communication To Blame For Surgical Fibroid Treatment?
During a radio talk show interview with Dr. John Lipman of the Atlanta Fibroid Center®, the show’s host, Robert Mark asked a question that was a bit eye-opening but also received a response that may be just as interesting.
Robert Mark: “Dr. Lipman, Do you find that in certain regions culturally within our community, the African American community, do you find that there is less of a sharing of information, that folks talk less about these issues and we are more quiet and hush-hush.”
Dr. Lipman: “Yes, it wasn’t until after my conversations with Beverly Johnson and some other prominent African-American women that I’ve met and had the pleasure of doing conferences with, that I really started to understand and I didn’t even know about this issue. She told me that it’s a very difficult conversation and she said that it’s a “cultural thing” and that when she was growing up, and even now, African American women did not discuss fibroids from mother to daughter.”
A prominent Female African American Doctor working in the field of reproductive endocrinology and infertility relayed a story from her childhood about visiting her relatives in the hospital and bringing food to those recovering from surgery for uterine fibroids. She didn’t really know what they were but she knew that many of the women in her life were affected by them. She did not learn about uterine fibroids until years later in medical school.
This story illustrates that the conversations were not taking place. This young girl was living around many female relatives who were suffering from fibroids yet she remained uneducated on the subject.
Now as a doctor she is sending this message, “It’s not acceptable for women to suffer and not know their options. We need to improve uterine fibroid awareness and education among all populations.” And “Despite minimally invasive options, Black women continue to dominate the percentages of women having hysterectomies for benign disease, and we need to understand why.”
African American Women May Suffer With Fibroid Symptoms For A Long Time Before Seeking Treatment
Women who lack knowledge about fibroids and their own reproductive health often think the symptoms they are experiencing are normal which could mean that there are many still living with undiagnosed fibroids.
If your mom or sister experienced symptoms like heavy and prolonged bleeding, then you may have a misconception of what normal is. Often by the time a woman seeks treatment she is suffering from anemia and the fatigue, it carries with it.
Treatment For African American Women With Fibroids
In the radio interview with Robert Mark, Dr. Lipman went on to say that many African American patients that he speaks with had been told by their mothers to “just have a hysterectomy, that is what I did” and this is such an impediment to them getting the best information and care. While this may have been the only solution available to their mother when she suffered from fibroids, medical advancements have come such a long way that there are alternative treatments today.
A Downside To Surgical Treatments For Fibroids In African American Women
Studies have shown that postoperative complications after surgical myomectomy and hysterectomy were twice as high in African American women compared to Caucasian women. Surgical complications often require blood transfusions and instances of these were also significantly higher among African American women versus their Caucasian counterparts.
Sometimes the possibility of needing a blood transfusion becomes a religious issue and may prevent treatment of a woman needing surgery. African Americans make up approximately 27% of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group with a religious prohibition against blood transfusions.
Because some gynecologic services and physicians insist that transfusions remain a medical option, and may decline to provide care for women who refuse to have a transfusion if the situation arises. African American women may avoid or delay needed medical care out of fear that their religious beliefs will not be respected.
Uterine fibroid embolization is a non-surgical procedure that can eliminate fibroids with no risk of ever needing a blood transfusion.
All Women Need To Take An Active Role In Their Healthcare
It is important to find a doctor that you feel comfortable with; one that partners with you to find solutions that work for you to treat whatever the health issue happens to be.
Today it is so important that a patient doesn’t just show up to their doctor’s office unprepared. There is a plethora of information on the internet that can be used for reference and can help a woman prepare questions to ask. Choose reliable sources and read about whatever you’re suffering with and then arm yourself with questions. This way, you are taking an active role in your health and not just sitting there blindly doing whatever you are told.
Be Deliberate In Choosing Your Healthcare Professionals
Let’s be honest, doctors are people too, and it is impossible to know which doctors are motivated to help you and which may be motivated by other things. You should feel a connection with the doctor and know that this doctor is really working and partnering with you concerning your health.
If you’re armed with information and you just do not like the answers that you’re getting back from the doctor you can go to another doctor. The more engaged you are in the process, the better chance you can make the best decision about who to have on your healthcare team.
Misinformation and Lack of Information Are Facilitating Unnecessary Hysterectomies
To give you a real-life example of why doing your own research and taking an active role in your health is so important, let’s talk about Kim who was suffering from severe fibroid symptoms. She was experiencing heavy bleeding for three out of four weeks a month until she began to suffer from anemia. Her Ob-Gyn wanted to do a hysterectomy which Kim thought was a bit drastic and would also bring on some unpleasant side effects she was not prepared to deal with so she sought other opinions. She went to several more Ob-Gyns who gave her the same treatment option of removing her uterus.
Frustrated, Kim began to do her own research on the internet to find alternatives to treat fibroids without undergoing a hysterectomy. She found Dr. John Lipman from the Atlanta Fibroid Center who told her about a non-surgical procedure called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) that is 90% effective in treating fibroids. None of the other five doctors that she had consulted with ever mentioned UFE as an option.
Kim knew almost nothing about uterine fibroids when she first began to seek treatment for her symptoms. It was only after seeing 5 doctors that she decided to look for an alternate solution on her own. After having the UFE procedure Kim said that it was incredible, she had UFE on Friday and went back to work on Monday, and felt like she got her life back. If she had gotten discouraged after a few consultations, she would have statistically landed among the 90% of medically unnecessary hysterectomies.
It’s Time To Talk About Fibroids
Many women, like Kim, are still not aware of uterine fibroids, and their associated symptoms and that uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a non-invasive but highly effective treatment to eliminate fibroids forever.
More research is needed to determine why Black women experience fibroids more than White women or any other ethnicity but in the meantime, the push for education and information sharing about fibroids needs to gain more momentum and move forward. If you just read this article, you can now share this information with other women. No more suffering in silence.
Even though the subject of fibroids and their symptoms of heavy bleeding, bloating, pelvic pain, etc are not the most comfortable conversations to be having, talking about these things openly can educate women on what is normal and what is not so they can seek help when it is needed.
If you are suffering from fibroid symptoms and you are ready to gain your quality of life back, the Atlanta Fibroid Center® is here to help! Dr. John Lipman has over 26 years of experience and over 10,000 UFE procedures to his credit. Contact us today to set up a consultation and find out more about UFE and how it could help you!