Uterine fibroids is a condition that’s often linked to several adult-related risk factors such as increasing age, low vitamin D levels, and high blood pressure. But could the risk for developing these noncancerous growths start well before adulthood? According to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology1, women who had a history of childhood abuse were also more likely to have uterine fibroids.
The study was led by Lauren A. Wise ScD, Senior Epidemiologist at Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University and Professor of Epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. With a team of experts, Wise explored the possible association between lifetime abuse and fibroids among over 9,000 premenopausal women enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study.
Between 2005 and 2011, participants reported diagnoses of uterine fibroids as well as their experiences with physical and sexual abuse throughout childhood (age 11 and younger), adolescence (ages 12-18), and adulthood (age 19 and older).
After comparing the data, Wise found that fibroids were more common among women who had reported childhood abuse—specifically sexual abuse—in comparison to those who hadn’t.
What’s more, the risk for fibroids increased with abuse severity. Women who experienced childhood physical and sexual abuse categorized as the most severe were 57 percent more likely to have fibroids.
But are these results race-specific?
In a similar study2 that spanned over 16 years, Renee D. Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD, Pediatrician, Social Epidemiologist, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine examined the possible relationship between early life abuse and the risk of fibroids in over 60,000 premenopausal women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study—97 percent of whom were Caucasian.
Overall, there were nearly 10,000 cases of fibroids; a staggering 65 percent reported also being abused. This risk was seen to increase with severity and frequency of both childhood and teen physical and sexual abuse.
From altering the body’s stress response and hormone levels to increasing the risk for obesity, there are a number of reasons researchers have connected early life abuse with fibroids.
But there was also a major finding that weakened this link. Results showed that abused girls who had a supportive relationship with an adult were less likely to have fibroids later on. This suggests that positive relationships are protective against the harmful impacts abuse can have on health and development.
A leading cause for hysterectomy in the US, uterine fibroids affect between 80 and 90 percent of African American women and 70 percent of Caucasian women by age 503. And although benign, uterine fibroids can be responsible for debilitating health problems like unbearably heavy painful periods, anemia, incontinence, constipation, painful intercourse, fertility complications, and depression.
At this time, the exact etiology of fibroids is still unknown but, fortunately, studies like these can aid in finding a cause and cure to what Boynton-Jarrett refers to as a “far-too-common condition.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer and Photographer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering within her community.
- Wise, L. A., Palmer, J. R., & Rosenberg, L. (2013). Lifetime abuse victimization and risk of uterine leiomyomata in black women. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 208(4): 272.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2012.12.034
- Boynton-Jarrett, R., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Jun, H. J., Hilbert, E. N., & Wright, R. J. (2011). Abuse inchildhood and risk ofuterine leiomyoma: the role of emotional support in biologic resilience. Epidemiology, 22(1): 6-14. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181ffb172
- US Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). How many people are affected by or at risk of uterine fibroids? Retrieved April 12, 2016, from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/uterine/conditioninfo/Pages/people-affected.aspx