Sunday, May 3, 2015

Uterine Fibroids: Today's Hidden Epidemic

For a condition that affects 80% of black women and 70% of white women causing symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding, fatigue, fertility problems, difficult pregnancies, anemia, pelvic pressure, frequent urination, painful intercourse, lower back pain, and abdominal distension, uterine fibroids do not receive the attention they deserve.

Source: Shutterstock

These benign tumors that form throughout the uterus, believed to thrive off estrogen, occur post puberty and most often after age 30. Because they range in size, fibroids can be as small as microscopic specks or as big as melons weighing next to nothing or tens in pounds. At their most aggressive, they invade a woman's uterus, growing in or outside its walls, under the interior surface, or as exterior stalks and bases.

Many women live with them without discomfort because they do not grow large, but at their worst, aggressive fibroids result in gynecologists presenting to sufferers options that include medication; myomectomy, surgical excision of the growths alone that preserves fertility by leaving the uterine intact; or hysterectomy, removal of the uterus, which eliminates further possibilities of childbearing.

Besides the physical discomforts and complications fibroids impose on women's lives, they also take a heavy economic toll on the US economy. A recent Essence Magazine article claims they cost $34 billion annually in productivity loss, medical treatments, and pregnancy complications.

According to the National Institutes of Health, "Research shows that over 90% of women who are newly diagnosed with fibroids will seek medical or surgical treatment for the condition within a year of the diagnosis. In 2000, more than 250,000 hospital admissions were related to uterine fibroids. Every year, fibroids lead to more than 200,000 hysterectomies."

So if fibroids affect so many women requiring them to endure major surgeries with at-times extended recuperation periods, why don't we hear more about them? In the Essence Magazine article mentioned above, there is focus on the White Dress Project founded by Tanika Gray Valbrun, who hopes to elevate the discussion on fibroids to federal and global levels as a crucial women's reproductive issue.

"There are so many women suffering with this epidemic. Rarely can you bring up the topic and a woman not have some familiarity with the issue--whether it's her mother, aunt, sister, or she suffers with it personally. I believe it's time for our government, influencers and policy makers to speak about this issue and allocate the funding needed to enhance research, educate more women on their options and find a cure," Valbrun says.

This writer agrees. There needs to be more education on fibroids for all women so they recognize the symptoms and take early steps to prevent or abolish them from their wombs.  As women, their loved ones, and allies become more aware, they will develop the coalitions that advocate for policy change targeting the specific needs of the affected.