Have you heard the story of the camel?

08 February 2018

Have you heard the story of the camel?

Was the question asked of us by Consultant Gynaecologist Mr Henry Annan after his morning clinic at Spire Roding hospital.

It’s a strange question to be asked when discussing fibroids, but it certainly piqued our curiosity. We were discussing Mr Annan’s specialties in gynaecology, with fibroids being the main topic of discussion, when Mr Annan was asked to elaborate on what fibroids actually were he explained very simply, the following:

What are fibroids?

Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the uterus. Many women are unaware they have fibroids because they don't have any symptoms. Women who do have symptoms (around one in three) may experience:

• heavy periods or painful periods
• tummy (abdominal) pain
• lower back pain
• a frequent need to urinate
• constipation
• pain or discomfort during sex
• In rare cases, fibroids can affect pregnancy or cause infertility.

So, what of the story of the camel?

Mr Annan explains that “fibroids can actually prevent you from conceiving”, at this point he draws a very elaborate diagram showing us a uterus and where fibroids can form. One of the fibroids is shown blocking the fallopian tube (the part of the body where your egg travels down from the ovary, into the uterus, to meet a sperm and be fertilised); it looks like a drawing of an unhappy elephant, but we’re not giving out awards based on artistic merit here. He continues, “you can see here that a fibroid can block the passage of the egg into the uterus, which actually acts as a form of contraception”.

We asked Mr Annan if he knew what the cause of fibroids were and who would be at risk:

Who gets fibroids?

The exact cause of fibroids is unknown. However, they're linked to the hormone oestrogen. Fibroids most often occur in women aged 30-50 when oestrogen levels are at their highest. They are very common, with around one in three women developing them at some point in their life.

Still unsure as to how any of this related to camels, we decided to ask the direct question “what exactly is the story of the camel then?” 

Mr Annan smiled before replying, “When traders used camels for trade, many years ago, they needed to prevent their female camels from getting pregnant. The traders had long treks across the desert and a pregnant camel would delay them dearly. The traders developed their own method of camel contraception by putting stones into the animal’s uterus. The stone acted similarly to how a fibroid can prevent pregnancy; and that is the story of the camel.”

Now, whether anecdotal or not, we found the evolution of camel stone contraception fascinating, if a little cruel (though back in the era described, we’re sure animal cruelty wasn’t big on the agenda).

It begs the question, how did they ever get them out? We decided to leave that for another day; instead, we asked how you would go about treating ladies for fibroids:

Treating fibroids

Treatment for fibroids isn't necessary if they aren't causing any symptoms. Over time, fibroids will often shrink and disappear without treatment, particularly after the menopause.
If you do have symptoms caused by fibroids, medication to help relieve the symptoms will usually be recommended first. There are also medications available to help shrink fibroids. If these prove ineffective, surgery or other less invasive procedures may be recommended.

Several different surgical procedures can be used to treat fibroids including:

• Hysterectomy - a surgical procedure to remove the womb.
• Myomectomy - to remove the fibroids from the wall of your womb. It may be considered as an alternative to a hysterectomy if you still would like to have children.
• Hysteroscopic resection of fibroids - where a thin telescope (hysteroscope) and small surgical instruments are used to remove fibroids.
• Hysteroscopic morcellation of fibroids - a relatively new procedure similar to hysteroscopic resection but the hysteroscope is only inserted once, rather than a number of times, reducing the risk of injury to the womb.

So, now you know the story of the camel and how it all relates to fibroids. Whether a fable, anecdotal, or true to the letter, it kept us intrigued and helped us to understand the effects of fibroids, how they can be managed and what the complications can be. It apparently also helped to shape our contraception as it’s known today; the invention of the IUD (Intrauterine device) aka the coil.

If you have a camel story of your own, or would simply like to speak to Mr Annan about a gynaecological concern, you can book an appointment through our private patient team:

020 8709 7817 or contact us via our website: https://www.spirehealthcare.com/spire-roding-hospital/

Dr Annan’s private clinics are Wednesday 8.30am – 12.00pm 

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