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The Use of Chinese Medicine Reduces Medical Costs for Women with Uterine Fibroids

May 22, 2015

Uterine fibroids affect 60% of reproductive aged women and symptomatic patients may incur high costs to treat the condition. Published in the April 2015 issue of BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a population-based retrospective cohort study conducted in Taiwan found that the use of Chinese medicine correlates negatively with the consumption of conventional medicine and medical cost in patients with uterine fibroids.

Uterine fibroids are the most common benign uterine tumors, occurring in 60% of reproductive aged women. While the majority of fibroids are asymptomatic, in 20% of patients it causes symptoms such as hypermenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, iron-deficiency anemia, and infertility. In symptomatic patients, the first-line treatment is surgery. However, since surgery often causes complications, conservative medical treatment to control symptoms related to fibroids are frequently adopted by patients and gynecologists. Available indicated medical treatments include antianemics (blood derivatives and iron preparations) to treat iron-deficient anemia, hemostatics (coagulants and anti-fibrinolytic agents) to reduce bleedings of hypermenorrhea, and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relief pain.

The estimated direct cost related to uterine fibroids includes cost of surgery, hospital admission, outpatient visit, and medication. The annual cost of uterine fibroids is up to 4.1-9.4 billion U.S. dollars (USD) in the United States, including 3.27 to 5.10 billion USD in nonsurgical management and 829 million to 4.3 billion USD annually in surgical management.

Chinese medicine (CM) is an alternative for treating gynecological diseases in Taiwan. Among fibroid patients, three fourths of them have used CM, which is considered to be less expensive, to have fewer side effects, and to result in lower subsequent surgery rate and higher quality of life than conventional western medicine. Because of the high usage rate, the expense of CM in Taiwan has been covered by the government-run National Health Insurance (NHI) system since 1995.

Authors of a study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine compared fibroid patients who were CM users with CM nonusers to determine: (1) if the use of CM correlates with the consumption of conventional western medicines specific to fibroid symptoms, and (2), if the use of CM changes the Nation’s healthcare cost for uterine fibroids.

The researchers extracted 44,122 patients diagnosed with uterine fibrosis between 1996 and 2010 from the National Health Insurance reimbursement database. Out of the 44,122 women diagnosed with uterine fibrosis, 11,412 patients were identified as CM users, and 32,710 patients were identified as CM nonusers. The study found that although more CM users were co-morbid with iron-deficiency anemia, hypermenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, and infertility than CM nonusers, they consumed less fibroid-related western medicines. The use of CM did generate an extra medical cost; however, the total NHI-reimbursed annual health care fee per patient in CM users was substantially lower than that in CM nonusers. CM users were also more unlikely to undergo uterine surgery, including hysterectomy and myomectomy and had lower health care spending in uterine fibroids.

The results from the study suggest that Chinese Medicine might be a potential therapeutic substitute for conventional western medicines to treat uterine fibroids with high efficacy and low cost.

Click here to view the full article on BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

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