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Heavy periods' economic toll

The 10% to 15% of reproductive-age women with severe bleeding lose $1,700 in yearly pay, a study finds.

November 11, 2002|Jane E. Allen | Times Staff Writer

Heavy menstrual periods are more than an inconvenience. They exact a significant economic toll. American women who suffer severe bleeding and cramping miss nearly a month of work and lose work time valued at nearly $1,700, on average, each year, researchers report in the first attempt to quantify the financial impact.

Dr. David Cumming, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Alberta in Canada, analyzed data from nearly 2,800 U.S. participants in a large federal health survey in 1999. All had at least one menstrual period in the previous year, none were taking estrogen and none had been diagnosed with reproductive cancer.

Those with heavy monthly flows, who constitute an estimated 10% to 15% of reproductive-age women, were less likely to have worked in the previous week than women who reported light or normal monthly bleeding, Cumming reported. They tended to be younger, less educated and single, and were less likely to be white than women with more normal periods.

The study authors based their economic loss estimates on the $470 per week that the average U.S. working woman earned in 2000. The report was published in the October issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

In an interview, Cumming said that when he and his colleagues studied direct economic costs of hysterectomies and other procedures associated with heavy bleeding, they "were unable to come up with a figure about how these things were affecting the patients financially."

So they undertook the latest study and were surprised by the financial ramifications. In a rough calculation, Cumming said, the $1,692 in economic losses, , multiplied by the number of working women thought to suffer with heavy bleeding, adds up to $15 billion. And that's probably a low estimate, because the problem is underreported.

"Patients I see may talk to their husbands, but certainly it's not something they're going to discuss at work with people that control time off. It's only when they get to the stage where they need surgery or some diagnostic testing that they talk about it," Cumming said.

The researchers also found fewer women with heavy bleeding tended to rate their overall health as excellent or very good: 55% compared with 70% of women with light or normal flow.

Cumming said heavy periods, called menorrhagia, are among the most common reasons women go to the doctor. The bleeding often is due to uterine fibroids, hormonal imbalances, polyps, pelvic inflammatory disease or endometrial cancer.

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