When Margaret Mcmahon, 48, of Belfast, Ireland, first sought medical attention in 2013 for a bloated stomach and abdominal pain, she was diagnosed with irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), a common, albeit uncomfortable disease.
Mcmahon, however, was not experiencing the routine bloating associated with the syndrome. She was living with what felt like a perpetual pregnancy, symptoms (a ballooning belly and frequent urination) and all. Mcmahon told the Sun, “It was like having a never-ending pregnancy except when you’re pregnant you’re going to have a baby at the end.”
After years of chronic pain in her hip and lower back and an emergency room visit, Mcmahon, a teaching assistant and mother of two, became suspicious that IBS was a false diagnosis. No longer able to experience normal life, she had to stop work and her social life “because there was so much pressure on my bladder.” She even complained of feeling sick after eating and remembers acute, stabbing abdominal pain towards the end.
Since doctors had yet to crack her case, she took matters into her own hands. She eventually insisted on a private CAT scan, which she paid for out of pocket. The diagnosis that followed validated her concerns.
The scans revealed a large mass in her womb, which an MRI later confirmed as a non-cancerous uterine fibroid — a benign clump of cells situated in or on the surface of the uterus. Before ruling out cancer, Mcmahon “didn’t know what they meant by a mass and no one really explained.”
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE BELOW
As it turns out, fibroids are remarkably common in women over 30 (so common that most adult women experience fibroids at some point!), but are usually too small to cause pain or swelling. If they are larger, which occurs in about 25% of white fibroid patients and 50% of African American fibroid patients, lengthy, heavy periods, constipation, pelvic pain and pain with intercourse are common symptoms.
Mcmahon, however, was the unfortunate exception. At its largest, the mass was 18 centimeters (or about seven inches) long and had grown to the size of a watermelon. Three years of misdiagnoses and alarming symptoms led to an unavoidable hysterectomy.
After years of not being able to “drive even five minutes down the road without needing the bathroom,” Mcmahon was thrilled to return to the life she led before her uterine fibroid. Following her hysterectomy in March, she was able to enjoy a vacation in Spain with her family for the first time in years.