y Bedah Mengo
NAIROBI, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) — Few months ago, Phylis Mwangi, a resident of Nairobi, Kenya started to feel unusual pain at her lower abdomen during her periods.
The 32-year-old believed this was normal since the pain often came when she was in her periods. Hopeful that it would disappear when her menstrual flow stops, Mwangi did not seek any medical attention. “I believed it was because of the periods that I used to feel extreme. I would take painkillers to relieve the pain,” she recounts.
With time however, things worsened. “I started to experience a heavy bleeding. Sometimes I would use up to 12 sanitary towels in a day. Mostly, the bleeding got worse on the second and third day, ” she says.
Consequently, Mwangi says on the two days she would always seek off from duty and avoid travelling. “I would stay at home since I feared embarrassing myself because I used to lose a lot of blood,” she says. Upon a friend’s advice, she visited a hospital in Nairobi. “I narrated my plight to a doctor who performed several scans on me,” she says.
It is then that the mother of one learned she had fibroids. These are non-cancerous growth of the muscle of the uterus, which occur in women during their reproductive years because of hormone stimulation.
They sometimes result in heavy bleeding during periods and difficulty in becoming pregnant. “I was devastated. I had heard of the disease several times but I never believed I would develop it, ” she says.
The doctor then informed her of several surgical medical operations she would undergo to correct the anomaly. But Mwangi was reluctant to be operated on, she says. ‘I do not know why I was uncomfortable with surgery but I choose to wait,” she says.
And thanks to her patience, she is now among 25 women in Kenya who have undergone a new non-surgical medical procedure introduced in the country to treat fibroids.
The procedure, known as Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) and being pioneered by Dr. Nigel Hacking, a Consultant Radiologist at the Southampton University Hospitals, UK, enables women to cure the disease without undergoing surgery.
UFE is a new approach in the treatment of fibroids in Kenya, and other African countries, though it is established internationally as a proven remedy to the disease.
Therefore, the method gives Kenya’s women suffering from fibroids a chance to treat the disease without necessarily going through surgery.
Prof. William Stones, Chair Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Agakhan Hospital where the operation is being done says UFE is best suited for patients who want to avoid open surgery.
“UFE is an alternative for patients who do not want surgery or have risks resulting from surgical complications,” Stones says.
According to Dr Nigel, UFE involves making a tiny cut on the skin to allow a fine catheter to be passed into blood vessels. “The catheter tip is moved along the blood vessels until the uterine arteries are reached. A substance is then injected to block the uterine arteries feeding the fibroids,” says Nigel.
The process is followed on an X-ray screen. The fibroids then degenerate and the symptoms disappear. “They do not disappear completely however they become dormant or dead,” says Nigel.
Stones say that the method is best suited for women who may wish to become pregnant again. “I choose the method because I wanted to conceive again,” Mwangi says.
“With only a son, my husband and I felt that our family was not complete,” she added. To undergo the procedure, a patient is taken through a gynaecological review and scans to determine the structure of the fibroids and assess the likely response to treatment.
“Once this is done, a patient is provided with painkillers during the night at the hospital, followed by tablets for two to seven days after being discharged,” he said.
It is thus possible for one to resume normal activity and return to duty, for workingwomen, within the first two weeks.
Florence Smyth, another patient who underwent the procedure says she resumed her daily activities after four days.
“I had stayed with fibroids for seven years. I gained weight and felt a lot of pain, which hindered my movement,” she recounts.
Florence, who lost four kilograms after the procedure, said she started engaging in work after four days. “I was back to normal. I began moving around and engaging in light exercises. This would not have been possible if I had gone through surgery. I had seen women taking more than a month to recover fully,” she says.
Dr Nigel reiterates that women who undergo UFE can conceive in future. “We advise patients to wait for six months before attempting to conceive. This is because there may be some increase of risk to the pregnancy in the presence of fibroids,” he says.
In Kenya, surgical treatment for fibroids include abdominal hysterectomy an operation suitable for patients who have completed child bearing and have large fibroids and open myomectomy for patients who want to give birth again.
Stones note that UFE is not a treatment for infertility. “The procedure does not enable women who cannot give birth to do so,” he says. Currently, UFE costs 3,750 U.S. dollars.
Editor: Yang Lina