No one is entirely sure what causes fibroids, but researchers have two main hypotheses: Some doctors point to hormone levels as a cause, suggesting that fibroid growth is caused by an increase in levels of estrogen and progesterone. Others, however, suggest fibroids are caused by genetics, so if someone in your family has been affected by uterine fibroids, you may be more likely to have them as well.
Why are Black women more at risk for uterine fibroids?
While almost everyone with a uterus can get them, some groups are more likely to get fibroids than others. Older women, overweight or obese people, and Black women are more likely to get uterine fibroids than other groups. While all of these groups are affected by uterine fibroids, Black women are by far the most affected. Katherine Brown, a Black OB/GYN and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, a collective of physicians fighting for reproductive rights in San Francisco, explained some reasons why to Allure. “Research understanding these racial differences is ongoing and is looking at racial disparities in care for fibroids, environmental reasons, genetic causes, molecular mechanisms of fibroids, and medical and surgical treatments for fibroids,” explains Brown.
She continues, “The Black Women’s Health Study has helped to characterize the burden of many medical problems, including fibroids, among Black women. I use the word ‘women’ here but recognize that all people with a uterus can experience symptoms of uterine fibroids and may need to seek treatment for uterine fibroids.”
The group has conducted studies into Black women’s increased risk for illnesses such as diabetes and breast cancer. Specifically, the Black Women’s Health Study’s research has suggested possible links between Black women’s greater risk of uterine fibroids and several causes including childhood trauma.
Aren Gottlieb, an OB/GYN based in New York City, offers another reason. “Fibroids are believed to be estrogen-responsive, and since obese patients make a lot of exogenous estrogen, they tend to have more fibroids,” Gottlieb says. And as Black women in the United States are disproportionately affected by obesity, this could be one reason why they are more at risk for developing uterine fibroids.
How would I know that I have uterine fibroids?
People with uterine fibroids usually present with a few key symptoms, most commonly including heavy menstrual bleeding, periods that last longer than a week, and pressure or pain in the pelvic area. Depending on where the fibroids develop, they could also cause pressure against the rectum or block the urethra, causing constipation or making urination more difficult.