What is Uterine Fibroid Embolization?
- Created: May 20, 2016
- by: Leah Johnson
A uterine fibroid refers to a growth in the uterus of a woman that is typically in her child-bearing years. While uterine fibroids are not cancerous, they can result in many negative side effects for a woman, such as severe pain. In some cases, uterine fibroids can also impact a woman’s fertility. As a result of all these side effects, many women seek to have these uterine fibroids removed. One option these women have is a uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), which is generally considered to be one of the less invasive procedures for treating fibroids.
If you’re thinking about undergoing the uterine fibroid embolization procedure or would simply like to learn more about this procedure, here is some vital information you need to know about the UFE procedure.
Why should you undergo a UFE procedure?
Most women choose to undergo a UFE procedure in order to reduce the side effects associated with uterine fibroids. Besides pain, some of the common side effects of uterine fibroids include spotting, irregular menstruation, heavy menstruation, irregular uterine bleeding, cramping, and a distended abdomen. Less common side effects of uterine fibroids include pressure in the pelvis, constipation, frequent urination, and leg pains. Pains from uterine fibroids tend to afflict the abdomen, the pelvis, and the lower back. In some cases, uterine fibroids also result in painful menstruation.
Sometimes, depending on their size and location, uterine fibroids can lead to infertility or pregnancy complications. While these negative effects are fairly rare, many women prefer to be safe than sorry when it comes to their well-being and the health of their unborn child. Women with uterine fibroids who hope to conceive are advised to either treat the fibroids or have children early. This is because uterine fibroids can grow in size throughout a woman’s life. At a later age, the uterine fibroids may be large enough to impact fertility. However, uterine fibroids tend to decrease in size once a women enters menopause.
Benefits of UFE Procedures
The benefits of UFE procedures convince many women to undergo this procedure rather than others that are also designed to serve as treatment for uterine fibroids. Some of the many advantages of UFE procedures are as follows:
- No blood loss
- Preservation to the uterus organ
- Decrease in dysfunction of the urinary system
- Decrease in pain
- Reduction of heavy menstrual bleeding
- Covered by the vast majority of insurance companies
- Recovery time is quick, allowing patients to leave the hospital sooner and return to work faster
- Results in fewer complications than other procedures, such as a hysterectomy
- A safe procedure with minimal risk
Essentially, there are many advantages of UFE procedures and very few disadvantages, which is why this option is appealing for so many women.
How is the UFE procedure performed?
The way the uterine fibroid embolization procedure works is by limiting the blood supply of the uterine fibroids. The lack of a consistent blood supply causes the uterine fibroids to shrink over time. In general, the uterine fibroid embolization procedure takes less than an hour and is performed as an outpatient therapy, which means it is not necessary for the patient to be hospitalized during or after the procedure. The reason the procedure is so short in length is because only one tiny cut into the femoral artery is required in most cases.
UFE procedures are usually performed by Interventional Radiologists (IR), who are medical doctors with great experience in the field of radiology. A woman will likely have to undergo quite a few tests before the procedure is performed in order to determine the size and location of the uterine fibroids. After the procedure, the patient may be asked to stay for up to a day in the care of the medical doctor and nurses.
To begin the UFE procedure, the medical doctor makes a small incision in the femoral artery, which is located in the thigh. The incision will give the IR access to the uterine artery via the femoral artery. This cut will allow the IR to pass a small tube called a catheter into the femoral artery and ultimately the uterine artery. The IR will use specialized X-ray equipment during the process to guide the catheter close to the location of the uterine fibroid. Once the catheter has reached the target location, embolic material will be injected into the blood flow that feeds the uterine fibroids.
This embolic material consists of small spheres that are designed to block the blood vessels that feed the fibroid with nutrients and oxygen. This deprivation of nutrients and oxygen will cause the fibroids to shrink with time. The embolic material will remain at the injection site permanently to prevent the revival of the fibroid.
The IR will then move the catheter to the uterus’ other side using the same incision of the patient’s thigh for access. Once the IR has completed the uterine fibroid embolization process, he will remove the catheter gently and use their finger to apply pressure to the incision in the thigh for a few minutes. This pressure will help slow down the bleeding. If needed, a vascular closure device will be used to close the cut.
Some common side effects after a uterine fibroid embolization procedure include pain and abdominal cramping. However, patients can expect these symptoms to disappear with time as they recover from the procedure. Your IR will recommend or prescribe medications so that you can remain comfortable during your recovery. Skilled nurses and your IR will consult with you and your OB-GYN to determine the post-procedure care you should receive and the post-procedure appointments that should be scheduled.
Without a doubt, the uterine fibroid embolization procedure is one of the least invasive ways to effectively treat uterine fibroids. As a result, more and more women are choosing to undergo the uterine fibroid embolization procedure rather than other more invasive procedures. If you have any questions about the actual procedure and the post-procedure recovery, don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.