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More People Are Turning to the Emergency Room for Fibroid Care

A Black female doctor examines a Black female patient in a hospital bed.

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Key Takeaways

  • A study shows that from 2006 to 2017, there was an increase in trips to the emergency room among women who have fibroids.
  • These noncancerous masses in the wall of the uterus can cause heavy bleeding.
  • Researchers hypothesize that patients go to the emergency department because they do not have established relationships with long-term providers that can help them manage their fibroids.

More and more people are turning up to emergency rooms for fibroid symptoms, like pelvic pain and heavy bleeding. But research shows that these visits could be avoided with regular care and checkups.

According to a new study published in the Obstetrics & Gynecology Green Journal, the number of emergency room visits women made for fibroids jumped from 28,732 in 2006 to 65,685 in 2017.

While the research found that the number of ER visits increased, the admission rate for people with fibroids in 2017 decreased to 11.1% from 23.9% in 2006.

The researchers say that this decline in hospital admissions suggests that the visits for fibroids could have been addressed in an alternative, non-emergency setting.

"When we look at the overall low percentage of patients getting admitted, that suggests that a lot of these visits can be handled in an outpatient setting with a trusted provider," study co-author Erica E. Marsh, MD, MSCI, FACOG, S. Jan Behrman collegiate professor of reproductive medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, tells Verywell.

Why Are Emergency Room Visits Rising?

Fibroids are benign, non-cancerous masses or tumors found in the wall of the uterus, according to Marsh. These masses vary in size from the size of a seed to the size of a watermelon.

"We don’t know why [fibroids] develop," Marsh says. What is known is that fibroids can "increase the overall size of the uterus and can cause increased menstrual bleeding."

In some cases, it's that bleeding that leads people to seek medical care. The findings of the study indicate that even though a lot of people with fibroids end up going to the ER, they do not end up being hospitalized for the condition.

The researchers analyzed over 487 million records from emergency department visits by women ages 18 to 55 made between 2006 and 2017. They specifically looked at access to fibroid care and the use of the ER for the treatment of fibroid symptoms.

The study found that emergency department visits were highest among low-income women aged 36 to 45 years of age.

While the study specifically looked at women with fibroids, the condition can affect any person who has a uterus.

Marsh points to several factors to help explain the emergency department visit trend among people with fibroids.

“One concern is that patients don’t have established relationships with a women’s health provider that would allow them to treat their fibroid symptoms, and in a trusted environment,” she says. “One of the other challenges is that they may not have that relationship with the provider due to lack of insurance.” 

Even if they have insurance, people might not know where to turn for treatment. “Some patients just may not understand that it’s a gynecological issue and that they need to reach out to an OB-GYN or another women’s health provider,” Marsh says. 

It's Difficult to Diagnose Fibroids

Fibroids can be difficult to diagnose because often they do not cause any symptoms—only 25% to 50% of people with the condition have symptoms, such as pelvic pain or heavy bleeding.

If these symptoms are intense, a person's concern might drive them to visit the ER despite the fact that the location is not ideal for fibroid care.

Marsh says that ER doctors do not usually have the time needed to fully counsel patients about the treatment options for uterine fibroids—a specialist would be more likely to be able to help.

“OB-GYNs undergo specific training that allows us to counsel patients on their treatment options for fibroids," Marsh says. "Which includes medical, surgical, and interventional radiology treatments."

In addition to the fast-paced environment of an ER, the visits tend to be costly: Emergency department care for fibroids is 10 times more expensive than care at an urgent care clinic. 

What This Means For You

If you experience uterine fibroid symptoms like heavy bleeding and pelvic pain, you should reach out to a health care provider or OB-GYN to seek treatment. This can be a more affordable option than paying for a costly ER visit.

Delayed Diagnosis and Treatment

Alexis May Kimble, DO, a double board-certified physician in gynecology and female pelvic medicine based in California, tells Verywell that untreated fibroids can lead to long-term health consequences.

“When fibroids are undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or not treated properly, patients could experience a growth of the benign tumor and worsening associated symptoms of pain or heavy bleeding,” Kimble says.

According to Marsh, fibroids can also cause:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Infertility,
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Urinary frequency

"The symptoms that [fibroids] cause are driven largely by where they are in the wall of the uterus and how large they are,” Marsh says.

Lack of Equitable Access to Fibroid Care

For people with fibroids, Marsh highlights the importance of the patient-provider relationship for accessing care.

“When a patient has a relationship with their provider, they know their provider," Marsh says. "They are talking to someone who they feel knows them and cares about them. The patients get the right care at the right time."

And while fibroids are the most common benign gynecologic condition in the United States, they disproportionately impact patients of specific racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“We know there’s a higher prevalence of fibroids among women of African descent versus European descent,” Marsh says.

Approximately 80% of African American women will have fibroids by the age of 50. They are also two to three times more likely to have a hysterectomy for fibroids than other racial groups.

Raising Awareness

Marsh stresses the need for more national-level campaigns that educate people about fibroids and how they can be treated.

“Many people don’t know about fibroids and that they’re the leading cause of heavy menstrual bleeding,” Marsh adds. “So I think one thing we can do is really help educate people about their bodies, and what’s normal and what’s not normal so that individuals can be empowered to go to health care providers.”

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  2. Eltoukhi HM, Modi MN, Weston M, et al. The health disparities of uterine fibroid tumors for African American women: a public health issue. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2014;210(3):194-199. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2013.08.008