By Sharon Kavhu
Cecilia Chitauro (not her real name), a 31-year-old woman from Mazowe, Zimbabwe, is one of the several African women who have been affected by uterine fibroids. She first developed a fibroid inside her womb in 2013 and it recurred after two years.
“Initially, I thought I was pregnant because I could feel a solid mass growing in my womb. The growth caused some pains in my womb and such pains are typical of early pregnancy. During the same time, I missed my periods and my husband and I were so convinced that I was pregnant. It was only when I started having heavy bleeding the following month that I realized that it was a fibroid, not a baby,” said Chitauro, who is now a mother of a two-year baby girl.
“When I went to the doctor, I had a scan and the results showed that the fibroid was growing in my uterus. The doctor told me that the pains which I was experiencing in my uterus and the irregular menstrual circle were a result of the fibroid. The fibroid was removed through a surgical operation but it reappeared in 2015. Although the fibroid was attached to my uterus, it was growing outside the womb.”
The mother of one told The Southern Times that the recurrent fibroid grew to as big as 8cm by 4.6cm because there was no sign to indicate that something was wrong with her.
Her menstrual circle was normal, she never had any pains in the abdomen or uterus. The fibroid was discovered when Chitauro was going for antenatal check-up routine.
Fortunately, the fibroid was removed and it did not have any effect on the foetus.
Many women across the region have misconceptions about fibroids, some suffer from them without knowing and others get terrified by them thinking they are cancerous.
But, what are fibroids?
Fibroids are defined by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care as non-cancerous abnormal growths that develop in or on a woman’s uterus.
The Mayo Clinic online defines fibroids as non-cancerous growths on the uterus that often appear during childbearing years. The clinic highlighted that fibroids are not associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer and almost never develop into cancer.
Although they are non-cancerous, fibroids can cause infertility, miscarriages, irregular periods, abdominal pains, painful sexual intercourse, pre-term labour and heavy periods.
In an interview, a Zimbabwean gynaecologist, Dr Ndabaninge Simango, told The Southern Times that fibroids can cause sequential miscarriages and infertility depending on their size and position.
“If fibroids occur on the uterus’ surface where the foetus is supposed to be attached when fertilisation takes place, then they can act as a barrier to implantation. Unless they are removed, they will continue to prevent women from being pregnant,” said Dr Simango.
“Fibroids can be a cause of miscarriages when they develop in the uterus and compete for space with the foetus.
The growth and pressure from the solid mass can squeeze the foetus, thereby causing a miscarriage.”
He said fibroids come in different sizes ranging from the size of seeds which are undetectable by the human eye, to bulky masses that can distort and enlarge the uterus.
When a woman develops fibroids, sometimes they come with signs and symptoms such as heavy periods, abdominal pains, pressure on the pelvis and frequent urinating. In other cases, they are asymptomatic which means they do not show any signs or symptoms.
In a separate interview, Dr Simbarashe Ndlovu another gynaecologist from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, said there are three types of fibroids namely: intramural, subserosal and submucosal which come with different effects.
“The abnormal bleeding during the menstrual cycle is attributed to the intramural and submucosal fibroids that occur on or within the wall of the uterus and just under the inner lining, respectively.
Research has shown that such fibroids distort the normal functioning of the uterus walls that control the amount of bleeding that one should have during menstruation, as a result, a woman ends up having a heavy period,” explained Dr Ndlovu.
He said the submucosal fibroids are the ones that are attached to the uterus but develops outside.
They can be attached to the uterus and yet floating outside the uterus as such, some women refer to them as moving fibroids.
Although fibroids cannot develop in a vagina, their attachment to the lower part of the uterus can cause one to experience pain or bleeding during sexual intercourse.
When a fibroid occurs at the top area of the uterus of a pregnant woman, it can put pressure on the baby resulting in premature birth.
However, while the signs, symptoms and effects of fibroids are known, the development of the non-cancerous growth remains unclear.
“Medical researchers have established that fibroids have several risk factors such as nulliparity and positive family history of fibroids. Nulliparity refers to the misomer stones of disappointed womb,” said Dr Ndlovu.
He said fibroids can be managed by surgical procedures such as hysterectomy or myomectomy and radiological intervention using ultrasound uterine artery embolisation. However, it is expected of them to recur within two years or more.
Hysterectomy is defined by MedicineNet as a surgical operation to remove all or part of the uterus while myomectomy is defined by Mayo Clinic as a surgical procedure to remove uterine fibroids.
Gynaecologists urge women to consult medical personnel when they notice signs of fibroids and visit their gynaecologists regularly.