New Study Finds Link Between Untreated High Blood Pressure And Uterine Fibroids

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Regular blood pressure checkups during middle age could have benefits extending beyond heart health, as new research suggests these checkups might also help reduce the risk of developing uterine fibroids.

Uterine fibroids are noncancerous vascular tumors that form in the wall of the uterus and can cause significant discomfort and health issues. The study in question examined a cohort of 2,750 middle-aged women with no prior history of uterine fibroids, tracking their health over more than a decade with annual checkups that included assessments of blood pressure, the use of antihypertensive medications, and the development of new fibroids.

The findings published in JAMA Network Open, revealed that approximately 20% of participants developed uterine fibroids by the end of the study. Notably, women who developed high blood pressure for the first time during the follow-up period were 45% more likely to develop fibroids compared to those who maintained normal blood pressure.

Additionally, individuals with untreated high blood pressure had a 19% higher likelihood of developing fibroids than those without hypertension. Conversely, women who managed their high blood pressure with medication showed a 20% lower risk of fibroid than those without hypertension.

The Importance of Treating High Blood Pressure

Susanna Mitro, PhD, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente‘s Division of Research in Northern California and the lead author of the study, emphasized the broader implications of these findings.

“Current clinical practice recommends that patients have their blood pressure checked at every clinical visit because controlling high blood pressure is necessary to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are life-threatening. Our findings suggest treating high blood pressure for those reasons may also reduce the risk of fibroids,” Dr. Mitro noted.

The type of antihypertensive medication used also appeared to influence firbroid risk. The study discovered that individuals who took antihypertensive drugs were 37% less likely to develop fibroids compared to those who required medication but did not take it.

Specifically, the use of ACE inhibitors was associated with a 48% reduction in fibroid risk.

“Our research adds to evidence that high blood pressure may increase the risk of fibroids, and suggests that treatment of high blood pressure, especially with ACE inhibitors, reduces the risk of fibroids,” Dr. Mitro says. “However, more research in a larger sample of participants is needed before these findings can be broadly translated into recommendations for patients.”

Uterine Fibroid Prevention

While the study wasn’t designed to establish a direct causal relationship between high blood pressure and fibroids, it provides a plausible explanation for this association. High blood pressure may cause inflammation and changes in blood vessels and uterine muscle cells that promote fibroid growth, according to Dr. Bhuchitra Singh, MD, MPH, the director of clinical research in reproductive sciences and women’s health at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“Treating hypertension could potentially reverse or stop these processes,” Singh suggested, though he was not involved in the study.

Preventing uterine fibroids isn’t straightforward, but certain heart-healthy lifestyle choices might also lower the risk of fibroids, according to Elizabeth Stewart, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Mayo Clinic Alix College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota.

“Exercise, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat, and weight control all appear to be linked to decreased risk of both hypertension and fibroids,” Dr. Stewart stated.

She emphasized that these lifestyle approaches are beneficial for overall cardiovascular health and could potentially help in fibroid prevention.

“Not only can you decrease risk of heart attack and stroke by controlling high blood pressure, but these data suggest you may be able to decrease the risk of uterine fibroids,” Dr. Stewart says. “Additionally, for women with uterine fibroids, screening for hypertension is even more important.”

The new study underscores the importance of regular blood pressure screenings and effective management of high blood pressure.

“Not only can you decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke by controlling high blood pressure, but these data suggest you may be able to decrease the risk of uterine fibroids,” Dr. Stewart concluded.

For women with uterine fibroids, monitoring and treating hypertension becomes even more critical, highlighting the interconnected nature of various health issues and the benefits of comprehensive medical care.