•Women who falsely feel they carry children in their bulging bellies
•The fibroid pains and way out – Experts
By Chioma Obinna
Being fat around the waist region has become a common phenomenon among Nigerian women. These women are seen in different shapes and sizes without medical laboratory certified pregnancies.
Most protruding stomachs are assumed to be resulting from pregnancies but findings by Sunday Vanguard reveal the opposite. It shows that not every woman moving around with bulging belly is pregnant. Experts say most of these women have a medical condition, popularly known as uterine fibroid, UF. Unfortunately, fibroid is gradually wreaking havoc across Africa and Nigeria in particular.
Several studies have shown increased occurrence of UF among women and more pathetic is the fact that no one knows what causes it and why it is more prevalent in blacks.
According to medical experts, 80 to 90 per cent of women have fibroid, although not all grow to such bizarre level as to cause infertility. It is also known in medical circle that the womb cannot be fallow. Medically, the uterus is meant to be occupied by babies but if the uterus is empty, then something must occupy the place (womb). It is also said that fibroid can grow as big as the size of a nine months’ pregnancy.
However, in Nigeria, due to ignorance, myths and misconceptions, many women mistake fibroid for pregnancy and, for some women who have the knowledge, high cost of treatment denies them access to proper treatment. Many of the women live in denial while some patronize traditional medicine healers who are bent on emptying their pockets in the name of shrinking the fibroid. Sunday Vanguard reports:
“It has not been easy for me because I thought I was pregnant with a child,” Gloria Patrick admits. Any woman in her shoes would have jumped at the sight of a protruding stomach without knowing what it is. That was Gloria’s reaction to her condition until she was proven otherwise.
Gloria was carrying about fibroid thinking it was pregnancy. But months after months, nothing happened by way of childbirth other than the fact that the stomach was protruding.
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When she did not give birth to a baby two years later, Gloria decided to seek the help of a medical doctor. Upon examination, it was discovered that she had fibroid.
“After they told me about the symptoms, it was then that I knew I had been having the condition for about seven years without knowing it”, she says.
Sadly, before the discovery, her husband had abandoned her on the grounds that her protruding stomach without giving birth was the reason for his misfortunes.
Faced with the challenges of hospital bill, Gloria could do nothing on her condition.
However, luck smiled on her when Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation operated on her free of charge. Today, the Akwa Ibom born woman is hale and hearty.
Gloria is not alone. Favour Anthony also did not have it easy after 48 masses grew in her womb as fibroid.
Few years after she had her first child, she was not able to conceive again. And just like any other Christian woman, she decided to go to church as she believed that everything that happens to a man has spiritual undertone. Unfortunately, she could not keep up her faith and decided to go hospital where it was discovered she had fibroid, the reason she was not able to conceive.
“Going about with protruding stomach without a baby was the worst feeling of my life. I was worried about what people will say. At a point, we discovered that my sister, who was still single, also had fibroid. That worsened the situation as people began to say it was a family thing”, she says.
“I was sad and, at a point, I thought it was a curse”. Just like Patience, Favour had no money to carry out surgery and she was forced to visit many places for help but all to no avail until Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation, under its free surgery project, last year, operated on her and her sister free of charge.
Annette is another victim of fibroid and unscrupulous herbal medicine dealers. After, she was told she had fibroid, little did she know that the journey was not an easy one. Just like some victims of fibroid, Annette began to lose weight while her stomach was growing bigger. In some communities in Nigeria, there are many explanations for people who suddenly lose weight and having protruding stomachs. In her community, the explanations range from witchcraft to ‘Mbiam’.
“I faced a lot of challenges. People have come to me with different local medications saying they will suck all that is making my stomach to swell”, she narrates. Like any other desperate women, she drank all sorts of medicine for years without any improvement in her situation.
“Despite these things, the stomach will just swell as if I was about to deliver. At other times, it will reduce in size by itself. But in all of these, my health was not getting any better. At a point, my blood count became significantly low until doctors at the Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation, BOF, boosted my blood for free surgery.
“When I was showed the 48 masses that were taking away my good health, I wept like a baby. My joy knew no bounds and I will be eternally grateful to BOF as I have my life back”.
Patience, Annette and Gloria are among the 626 women operated free of charge by BOF last year.
According to medical experts, UF, also known as myoma or leiomyoma, refers to benign, monoclonal tumous of the smooth muscle cells of the human uterus. They are the most common tumors in women of reproductive age and are asymptomatic in at least 50 per cent of afflicted women.
Fibroid also impairs reproductive functions resulting in reduced fertility, early pregnancy loss, increased preterm labour and delivery, and markedly increase the risk for caesarean delivery.
However, several factors have been implicated in the etiology of fibroid. Epidemiological studies link fibroid to the female reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
A 2017 study on the epidemiology of uterine fibroid: a systematic review, published in BJOG, an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, notes that the black race was the only factor that was recurrently reported to increase fibroid risk by two –threefold compared with the white race.
Among the 11 other factors the study identifies are: Age, premenopausal state, hypertension, family history, time since last birth and food additive and soybean milk consumption, use of oral or injectable contraceptive depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, smoking in women with low body mass index and parity reduced fibroid risk.
According to Dr Benjamin Olowojebutu, African women are mostly affected by fibroid. Olowojebutu, a surgeon, stated that no drug can shrink fibroid, dismissing the insinuation that undergoing fibroid removal surgery will cause infertility in a woman.
He explained that several women who have undergone surgery have conceived and given birth successfully.
“We had a mission where a woman who had carried fibroid for 20 years had surgery last year; today the same woman is carrying twins”, Olowojebutu pointed out.
He explained that fibroid could only cause infertility if the growth is in the endometrium.
According to him, the superstitious, myths and fallacies surrounding the condition are the main reasons more women are dying from fibroids.
“There is no medicine that will shrink fibroid and there is no way you will pass it out through the anus. That is a lie and that is what is killing a lot of our women. These people (herbal dealers) are deceiving them and making money from them. They keep taking these drugs for years, but instead of shrinking the fibroid, they keep getting bigger”, the surgeon said.
“There are lots of fallacies and superstitious beliefs around fibroid that you can take medicines to shrink or pass it out from the anus. That is what is killing many women today; they take herbal drugs and have been taking them for years and, instead of shrinking the fibroid, it is getting bigger. We want to create awareness to let people know that there is help for them”.
He said that a major challenge contributing to women resorting to alternatives rather than visiting the hospital was high cost of surgery which, he said, could be up to a million Naira; adding that the foundation was ready to meet the needs of indigent women who could not afford to pay for surgery.
He disclosed that the average cost of surgery is N500, 000 on the Lagos mainland and about N1 million on the Island.
“So, imagine somebody earning N4, 000 a month. How long will such person save to be able to pay for surgery? We just concluded the Ikorodu outreach where eight fibroid surgeries took place. We will be off to Cross River, Imo, Abia, Edo, Rivers and Ondo States from Feb. 1, 2019,” he said.
He explained that the risk of developing fibroid could be reduced if a woman married early and there was a break in her menstrual flow.
“Women who menstruate early, let us say at 10 years old and you are now 35 years old, that is 25 years of bleeding without a break. When there is no break in your menstrual flow, that is, the longer you are menstruating, you stimulate the oestrogen hormone to produce fibroid.
“Women who have many babies may not have fibroid, because there is usually a break; one year of pregnancy and another for breastfeeding, which is two years of break. So, the oestrogen hormone cannot stimulate their womb to grow fibroid”.
Olowojebutu, who is the founder of BOF, alongside his wife after surviving a motor accident, added that BOF is targeting 1, 000 indigent women for free surgery this year.
In a report, a family physician and surgeon, Dr. Moses Ani, noted that clinical evidence shows that women aged between 30 and 50 are the most likely to develop fibroid. Overweight and obese women also could be more at risk of developing fibroid, compared to women of normal weight.