By Sandra Wekesa @AndayiSandra
Her huge bump and constant illness makes it easy for anyone to think Benta Akoth is pregnant. But Benta was not pregnant, far from it. In fact, her ‘baby’ was a huge growth in her womb that wrecked her marriage and motherhood dreams. It also did a number on her confidence.
Her teens entailed constant checkups, but nothing really revealed what was wrong, especially when it came to her menstrual cycle. “The sensation was foreign and made it hard for me to sleep or even rest on my side. I went through a bevy of possibilities: appendicitis, blocked bowels, gallstones kidney stones but none of all those were diagnosed after numerous tests,” she says.
The routine: falling sick, visiting a doctor, taking prescription medicine, slowly started overwhelming her.
“I was tired of taking medication, so I had to look for another way to stop the pain. The medication wasn’t helping at times, as the bleeding was so heavy, that it affected my work. At this time of the month, I couldn’t eat anything, I kept throwing up every time I attempted to,” she recalls, adding that the extreme pain she experienced made it difficult for her to have sexual intercourse.
An ultrasound revealed she had fibroids, which occupied the most part of her uterus. Fibroids are non-cancerous growths of the womb. Also known as leiomyomas or myomas, they often appear during child-bearing years. These growths range in size, can appear in various parts of the uterus, and are usually undetectable in many women.
Unfortunately for Akoth, she is among the women who suffer acute symptoms including heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain. The doctors discovered that she had both internal and outer fibroids, measuring 12.38 by 8.89cm and 6.82 by 4.59cm respectively, meaning that there was no space for a baby to grow if Akoth got pregnant.
When she decided to seek medical advice, doctors asked her to consider hysterectomy—the partial or total removal of the womb. It was not an option for the 39-year-old woman who had hoped for non-surgical treatment that would save her womb and allow her to have children.
According to research, women aged 18-50 are prone to getting fibroids. Globally, one in five women happen to have fibroids—with black women two or three times likely to have them — and about 80 per cent of women develop fibroids by the time they are 50.
Although the cause of fibroids is still unknown, high-level of estrogen is one of the factors. This is why most doctors may recommend a healthy lifestyle.
Dr Ravjit Sagoo, an international radiologist at Aga Khan Hospital, says often, fibroids do not cause any harm to the body and can be left without any form of treatment because they tend to shrink naturally after menopause. However, if they cause harm, it is best to start treatment early enough.
“Often most women don’t treat fibroids because they are not harmful to their health,” he says, adding that although for long the treatment has been through surgery, development in the medical field has made it possible for knifeless procedures to be conducted.
One of these methods is the Uterine Fibroid Embolisation (UFE). Dr Sagoo says with this procedure, a patient has to be sedated before a tiny cut is made on the skin, usually on the left wrist. The radiologist then passes a catheter through this cut into a blood vessel, until it reaches the vessel supplying blood to the uterus and fibroids.
A special substance is then injected to block the blood vessels to deprive the fibroids of nutrients. All this is visible on an X-ray screen. Dr Sagoo adds that patients are discharged a day or even a few hours after the procedure.