Fibroids: A common problem few women talk about

Uterine fibroids have become extremely common, but it has also become one of the most misunderstood women’s health topics

Monday June 2 2014

Experts say fibroids are among the most common

Experts say fibroids are among the most common conditions among women. photo by Faiswal Kasirye  

By Christine W. Wanjala

Like most health conditions, there is no magic bullet for fibroids, and no “one size fits all” treatment. Fibroids (medically known as uterine leiomyomas) are benign growths in the muscular tissue of the uterus.
The actual trigger for the growth is not known yet. But what is known is that the female hormone oestrogen accelerates their growth.
They are named according to the location within the uterus.
Submuccosal fibroids are those that occur just under the inner lining of the uterus.

Subserosal occur under the outer walls of the uterus while intramural occur within the uterus lining.
Pendunculated fibroids grow on a stalk from the uterine walls and hang either in the uterine cavity or outside.

According to Mulago hospital gynaecologist, Dr Geoffrey Alia, fibroids are the commonest benign condition among women. And in his view, subserosal are the most commonly occurring fibroids.
Estimates put fibroids at affecting up to 60 per cent of women of African descent.

are you at risk?
According to Dr Julia Birungi, a gynaecologist at International Hospital Kampala and Mulago hospital, fibroids more commonly occur in women between the ages of 31 and 35. Although there have been cases of fibroids in girls as young as 14 years. “Women who start their menses earlier, below the age of 10 may get fibroids earlier in life,” she said. As oestrogen levels drop towards menopause the fibroids tend to shrink.

Being of African descent is also a risk factor. Studies have shown fibroids are three times more likely to occur in black women than in Caucasian women.

If there is a history of fibroids in your family, then chances are you may also become a victim. “People whose female relatives have had fibroids are more likely to have them,” says Dr Geofrey Alia.

If you delay pregnancy and child bearing or leave large gaps between pregnancies during one’s reproductive years, then you ought to look out. “The uterus’ exposure to oestrogen for extended periods may explain this,” said Alia.

That is not all, obesity also plays a role as more fat means higher oestrogen levels.

one woman’s experience
I had heard of several people being treated for fibroids, but most of them were women in their 40s. I know one who had gone to a herbalist in Jinja, but I did not really bother to follow up on what happened to her.

A few months after my wedding, I experienced the first of serious abdominal pains. I tried to ignore it but by the end of the week, I simply could not stand it anymore. I had to see a doctor. I thought I had an infection of some sort and the doctor would order some drugs and the pain would go.

He ordered for several tests, including an ultra-sound scan on my belly, which some months prior had progressively become distended.
The results, as he told me, was I had a urinary infection, but I was also one month pregnant and had fibroids, two of them about the size of a fist. I remember being numb from all this information and crying all night.
I only calmed down when I returned and asked my questions.

He told me the fibroids were within the walls of the uterus and that despite them being there, it was still possible that I could still carry the pregnancy to term. I stopped worrying much about the fibroids though my abdomen seemed to be growing by the day and I always felt bloated.

But at around nine weeks, I began experiencing cramp-like pain in my stomach. By then, my abdomen had grown so big that people thought I was in my sixth month of pregnancy yet I had barely made three months.

I was advised to take it easy and all would be well, but the pain persisted. One weekend, the pain which felt more like cramps was intense that I bled a little. I rushed to hospital where a doctor told me it was a false alarm and that all I needed was some bed rest. But that evening I was in pain again and we rushed back. But it was too late and I lost my baby.

The doctor advised me to focus on removing the fibroids before I try getting pregnant again. But they had to be shrunk first before the surgery, otherwise I would risk losing a lot of blood and possibly my uterus.

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