I discovered I had fibroids during a routine Pap screening. My doctor performed the usual procedure for my checkup, and after she was done she nonchalantly said, “Oh, your uterus is a bit swollen. You may have fibroids.” I looked at her in bewilderment. She acted as if fibroids were a common cold, and it was nothing to worry about.
Ironically, I had just had a phone conversation with my girlfriend a few days before my annual checkup, and she revealed to me that she had fibroids and her doctor was suggesting a hysterectomy. Thank goodness she had enough knowledge to refuse this procedure. Scared for my friend who hasn’t had any children yet and confused about what they were, I turned to Dr. Google to get some clarity. Little did I know, a few days later, I would be told I had them as well. My doctor ordered an ultrasound to be done to check my uterus out, and sure enough – the fibroids were right there. I asked a million questions about what they were, how they got there, how they could be removed, and if they could hinder childbirth.
My doctor explained to me that fibroids were noncancerous growths in and on the uterus that were more common in black women and really couldn’t be explained. I decided to dig a little deeper on google after my appointment to see what I could find. I grew worried about what I was reading, so I shared my diagnosis with my mother and a few more friends. Surprisingly (but not really surprising since they are all black women) each one responded to my fibroids diagnosis with, “me too.” Almost my entire circle of sisters had been diagnosed with fibroids, and no one could offer the other advice on how to deal with them.
According to statistics, more than 80% of black women will have fibroids before the age of 50. Symptoms of fibroids include heavy menstrual bleeding, painful periods, pressure or swelling in the abdomen, urinating more often than usual, constipation, difficulty conceiving, and painful sex. Because so many of our sisters are confused about fibroids, I chatted with three experts to get deeper into this serious matter that plagues millions of black women.
Chelsea Vonchaz, founder of Happy Period – a charity that bridges access to menstrual care and reshapes how the culture talks about periods, shared her knowledge on fibroids and her own personal experience with the issue. “I think it’s important to mention the impact fibroids can have on mental health. We’re already not openly talking about our menstrual cycle, so of course fibroids is something we’re not gonna just openly discuss. It can be embarrassing, depressing, and trigger loneliness.”
Chelsea believes that it is extremely important to raise awareness about this issue, especially since it disproportionately affects Black women. “We’re affected the most, it’s too common in our culture, and we’re not talking about it. Our bodies have not been our own for centuries, and even though now we may have control over our bodies, there’s no support for our health and wellbeing. We’re still being told a hysterectomy is the best or only option for us that keep having issues with fibroids. There’s no prevention measures being taken.”
What’s even scarier about fibroids is that there is not much research on the matter, and hysterectomies are being used as common solutions. Chelsea spoke passionately about this issue and how unimportant it is to the medical industry. “Fibroids are the catalyst for one-third of all hysterectomies performed. Fibroid research only received about $17M in funding, putting it in the bottom 50 of 292 funded medical conditions. This makes sense as to why there’s no medical reason established and/or released to what causes fibroids. The estimated annual direct medical cost of uterine fibroids is $4.1 to 9.4 billion dollars. Yes, Sis…. Billions! This includes hospitalizations, surgeries, prescriptions, and outpatient visits. That’s a lot of money being made, and spent on us having tumors in our wombs.”
Like every other issue that affects Black women, it gets to a point where we have to stop depending on outside sources to help us and take matters into our own hands. There are things we can do to help alleviate symptoms caused by fibroids. Chelsea recommends a book that helped her titled Healing Fibroids, A Doctor’s Guide to a Natural Cure by Allan Warshowsky, M.D. and Elena Oumano.
Brooke Davis, Ovia Health Coach and Registered Nurse, offers a few things that Black women can do to aid fibroids. “The exact reasons for fibroids affecting Black women disproportionately remain to be confirmed. We do know that a strong genetic link exists. Some other discussed possibilities have been increased overall stress in Black women, exposure to certain chemicals (such as hair relaxers), and lower vitamin D levels due to darker skin. In trying to prevent or control the growth of fibroids, supporting overall hormonal balance can be very helpful. Eating a well-balanced anti-inflammatory diet that supports your hormones. This includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, clean sources of protein, and healthy fats. Minimizing added sugars, processed foods, and fast foods can be very helpful.”
Davis also recommends chemical-free personal care and cleaning products, hormone/pesticide free food options, finding healthy ways to help manage and relieve stress, having your vitamin D levels checked and asking your provider about supplementation if you’re vitamin D deficient, increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), and having a compound called Diindolylmethane (DIM) that can help our liver to process and metabolize excess estrogen, which can be stimulating to fibroids. Nicole Sample-Harris, OBGYN in Long Island, New York, says that while there are no FDA-approved natural remedies for management of fibroids, there are other options that would help toward symptom relief. “I have personally recommended evening primrose oil which is a supplement with anti-inflammatory properties to help manage symptoms for women with conditions such as uterine myomas, endometriosis and pelvic pain.”
Harris encourages Black women to speak up when it comes to their health. “I think that it’s important that as black women we listen to our bodies. If you feel like there is something wrong, you should be evaluated by a knowledgeable and trusted gynecologist. Ensure that your concerns are heard and that you and your physician come to an agreement for management that you are both comfortable with. Historically, black women (and men) have developed a lot of mistrust in the healthcare system. That is why it is important that myself and other women of color exist in medicine and are available to offer the care you all deserve.”
Black women, let’s be proactive when it comes to our health. Let’s not only stick to our routine checkups, but let’s ask questions, do research, live healthier lifestyles, and lobby for our health rights. It’s up to us to make our health a priority.
To learn about the fibroid bill, click here.