What you need to know:
- The persistence and misguided use of traditional medication has led to a lot of women opting for cysts and this has proven more damaging as many often end up in worse situations
Ovarian cysts are among the most talked about issues among women, although there are no relevant statistics to show the magnitude of the problem in the country. An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms inside or on an ovary.
Any woman can develop an ovarian cyst and while chances are increased with age, ovarian cysts are more common for women who haven’t gone through menopause and pregnancy. They are also more likely to form and remain during pregnancy. A woman is also more likely to have an ovarian cyst if she had one before.
According to Cleveland Clinic in the United Arab Nations, ovulation is named as the leading cause of ovarian cysts across the globe, while other listed causes include, abnormal cell reproduction, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
It is well-known that ovarian cysts are treated in the hospital, but, according to a Your Health survey, there has been a trend in Tanzania where girls and women shun hospital treatment for the disease and resort to traditional treatments.
A rising concern
Lucy Leonard (32), a resident of Mwenge, Dar es Salaam shares that she has been suffering from ovarian cysts since 2009 and by 2016, it had grown to become an ovarian mass. It was at this point that she tried various medical methods to end the problem, including being given medicine in the hospital to no avail.
"Although I used the medication prescribed before it reached the level of ovarian mass, believing my doctor’s words that the cysts will disappear, it is unfortunate that it did not happen," she said.
She continues to say: "When the cysts grew to become an ovarian mass, I was told that surgery was the best way to end the problem and while I did not like this course, I didn't have any other choice and so I agreed."
Much to her surprise though, a year and a half after the surgery, the problem returned at an incredible speed and ruined her peace of mind leading her to a state of overthinking and depression over the course of her health.
Ms Leonard has said that as the problem continued to persist with no signs of ever slowing down. She was then advised by the doctor that if she gave birth, the problem may end completely.
"I gave birth to two children in the space of four years to make sure that I finished the problem completely, but it still persisted," she said.
She went on to reveal that after seeing that her problem has become difficult and probably failed to be treated at the hospital, she decided to seek the help of traditional medicine.
"I never believed in traditional medicine but after watching my condition get worse day-by-day, I decided to try it and see if it might help cure me," she said.
She continued to say: "I know that the medicine I am using has not been approved by the authorities, but what concerns me is that it has helped me a lot, especially to reduce the severe pain I was experiencing before."
"I started to think that I should have tried traditional medication before, maybe my illness would not have gotten this far, especially since I watched it grow,” she added.
27-year-old Aisha Ramadhan shares that she started suffering from ovarian cysts three years ago and was given medicine to remove the swelling in her ovaries.
"I took the medicine until the cysts were completely gone and when I returned to the hospital for another check-up to confirm if the problem was over, I was told that it was completely over," she said.
"After several months, I started to feel stomach aches especially below the navel and that's when I decided to go back to the hospital. After the check-up, they told me that the problem was back but it was not serious and so can be treated in the same way as before," she explained.
"I was given medication once again which I took as prescribed by the doctor to make sure that I completely recovered," she said.
Aisha shares that even after all the efforts, the problem returned again and again which was why she decided to switch from hospital treatment in favour of traditional treatment because she was told by her mother that the problem could lead to infertility.
"I don’t know the name of these traditional medicines that I’m taking right now, but they have helped me to reduce the pain to a great extent,” she said.
“I'm thinking of going for a test to find out if the ovarian cysts are there or if they're completely gone," she added.
"In my case, this way is much better than waiting for the problem to get bigger or to undergo surgery," she explained.
Fredrick Fredrick, a medical doctor at Bugando Referral Hospital explained that ovarian cysts treatment depends on number of factors such as age, symptoms and what is likely to be the cause of the cysts.
"Once the doctor examines the patient, they will then be able to prescribe the best treatment for the patient in question, and patient should be patient with the process so that the doctor can do his job effectively," he said.
He went on to explain that professionally, ovarian cysts can be tested through a pelvic exam, ultrasound or laparoscopy which will help the doctor will know how much of a problem the patient has before deciding on a course of treatment.
"The patient should then follow the doctor's instructions about her treatment course and not do as she pleases," he added.
Treatment methods vary depending on the severity of the patient's problem.
“For instance, watchful waiting is the best way for functional ovarian cysts as they are caused by slight changes in the way the ovary makes or releases an egg. A cyst may form when a sac on the ovary doesn’t release an egg, and the sac swells with fluid, or the sac may release an egg and then reseal and fill with fluid,” he explained.
“These type of cysts usually go away without treatment that’s why the doctor may suggest a wait-and-see approach,” he added.
However, a patient will still need to have a follow-up ultrasound within a few weeks or months after the diagnosis to see if the cyst has resolved on its own.
He said, other patients can be treated through medication containing hormones such as birth control pills to stop ovulation and prevent future cysts from forming.
He went on to say: "The method that many women fear is ovarian cyst surgery, although it is the best method if a cyst is causing symptoms and getting bigger, you may need surgery to remove it."
“The type of surgery depends on the size of the cyst and how it appears on the ultrasound,” he said.
The different procedures used include a laparoscopy, where a doctor inserts a small camera through a small incision in your abdomen. They view your reproductive organs and pelvic cavity using the device so that the ovarian cyst can be removed through tiny incisions (ovarian cystectomy).
Other procedures could be laparotomy (a surgical cut into the abdominal cavity) especially if the cyst is very large or if there are other concerns.
“If doctors suspects cancer, they may consult with a cancer specialist, or gynaecological oncologist about the best treatment options,” he said.
He went on to say: "Even if she is treated and it appears that the problem still persists, she will be treated in other ways by the doctor until she is cured."
In addition, Dr Fredrick has advised women not to use medicines that they are not sure have been approved by the relevant authorities because it may cause other harm, including death.
"Certified health professionals are the ones who can provide the correct treatment for the disease in question. There have been several health complications caused by the use of unproven medicines," he said.
He added: "Ovarian cysts are completely treatable problems, hospitals in the country cannot fail to treat someone with that problem. It is good for patients to be patient so that their problems can be solved and not to look for other methods that are not safe or sure to end the problem."
Dr Fredrick said women in the country need to build a culture of checking their health, especially on the disease like ovarian cysts, because most of them live with them unknowingly.
"Many of the patients we receive realise that they have problems with ovarian cysts after a long time due to the fact that they don’t do health check-ups regularly," he said.
He added: "Many women are afraid of surgery, but in order to avoid getting to surgeries, they should check and know the state of their health regularly. If they get ovarian cysts, it is easier to treat them in the early stages with pills without surgery."
However, Dr Fredrick has asked the relevant authorities to investigate and hold accountable those who sell unregulated medicines in effort to prevent citizens from using medicines that may harm them or not treat the diseases they face properly.
"If the authorities arrest people who sell unauthorised medicines, eventually others will be afraid to do such business," he said.
He continued: "It has become normal in our country for someone to walk the streets selling medicines to people that are not known if they are safe for human use. Treating people should be left to certified doctors and herbalists and nothing else."