Fibroids Symptoms Are Different for African American Women
Women who are African American have a much greater risk of developing uterine fibroids than white women do. In fact, many experts theorize the risk is tripled for women of African descent. And that’s not all. Their symptoms tend to be more severe, and are often less likely to be properly diagnosed. It’s useful for Black women to familiarize themselves with the common symptoms of fibroids and be vigilant about signs of developing fibroids, so they can seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Experts estimate more than 80% of African American women develop fibroids, or uterine leiomyomas, by the time they reach their 50th birthdays, compared with about 70% of white women. But fibroids are not just more common for African American women. They also tend to develop earlier in African American women than they do in white women, as a general rule. Some research suggests about 6% of white women develop fibroids between the ages of 18 and 30, but the percentage of Black women in that same age category with fibroids is closer to 25%. And the percentage jumps to about 60% by their 35th birthday. African American women also tend to develop larger fibroids that grow more rapidly and occupy more of the uterus–which can lead to more severe symptoms.
Fibroids are also more likely to cause certain symptoms, like heavy bleeding, in African American women. Heavy periods are actually a fairly common symptom of fibroids, but they tend to be more severe in Black women. This is problematic for a couple of reasons:
- Quality of life. Research shows that heavy bleeding often interferes with a woman’s quality of life. She may have trouble absorbing the flow, which may stain her clothes and even her furniture. Dealing with the heavy bleeding and its aftermath can disrupt her schedule, forcing her to curtail her activities as a result. That may have negative consequences on her professional life, if she has to miss work. And it can have a negative impact on her personal life, too.
- Heavy blood loss often leads to iron deficiency, causing anemia. This can pose health risks, as well as make someone feel tired and sluggish. Other possible side effects of anemia include shortness of breath, pale skin, chest pain, cold feet and hands, and irregular heartbeat.
Again, these are important issues to be aware of–and any woman experiencing them should know it’s perfectly okay to bring up these concerns with her doctor.
Uterine fibroids are considered a benign condition–that is, they’re not cancerous. But that doesn’t mean they can’t cause a great deal of pain. Research suggests African American women are more likely to suffer from pelvic pain from their fibroids than white women. And, that pain is typically more severe.
Some of the other related symptoms Black women may experience include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal tightness or pressure
Like the heavy bleeding, these symptoms and pain can have a profound impact on your life. Women may withdraw from other people, and as a result, relationships may suffer. Treatment can help, but due to disparities in healthcare access and quality for women of color, it’s often an uphill battle to find relief. This is changing as more doctors become aware of fibroids symptoms–and the racial disparities associated with them–and more women recognize that their problems aren’t a normal part of menstruation..
When you know your risk factors and you’re aware of the symptoms, you’re more likely to notice something doesn’t seem quite right. And you may be more likely to consult your doctor about it. This can help guide you into the best treatment scenario for you.
Research suggests African American women have been more likely to delay treatment longer than women from other racial groups. They live with their symptoms–and suffer from them–for a longer period of time before seeking medical care. This may be because more women in their community and family experience fibroids symptoms and believe them to be just a normal part of life. But severe pain, cramping, pressure, bloating, and heavy bleeding are not a normal part of the menstrual cycle. And waiting too long before seeking help may affect what treatment options are available. That’s why it’s crucial to know your risk, recognize your symptoms, and find a doctor who can help you find the best treatment for you. New therapies for uterine fibroids are in development and being released frequently, and the traditional hysterectomy is no longer your only option. Find a doctor who makes you feel heard, who offers you treatments that work with your lifestyle and needs, and who can help you find real relief.