Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a safe and effective, minimally-invasive interventional radiology treatment for uterine fibroids. UFE is a possible alternative to hysterectomy and the benefits include: less pain and shorter recovery time. The procedure is suitable for both multiple and/or large fibroids.
Uterine fibroids also known as leiomyoma, myoma, or fibromyoma are common, benign tumors that develop in the muscle wall of the uterus. The fibroids range from the small as a pea to as large as a grapefruit, and occasionally larger. They are the most common tumors in the female genital tract. There are four kinds of fibroid tumors:
Women with fibroids may not necessarily experience symptoms. It depends on fibroid size, location, and number. Approximately 10 – 20% of women with fibroids require treatment. Symptoms are varied and may include the following:
- Pelvic pain and pressure
- Back and leg pain
- Heavy prolonged menstrual periods
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Bladder pressure with a frequent urge to urinate
- Pressure on the bowel, leading to constipation and bloating
- Abnormally large abdomen
- Blood clots in the legs
Diagnosis and Treatment
Women usually see their gynecologist first and undergo an ultrasound to discover if they have uterine fibroids. Next, they see an interventional radiologist for a second opinion. Interventional radiologists use MRIs to verify the presence of uterine fibroids. An MRI can provide a clearer image of any underlying issues. It can also be used to:
- Reveal all fibroids in the uterus
- Determine if fibroids are eligible for embolization
- Rule out misdiagnosis
- Identify which treatments are best for each patients
The procedure does not require general anesthesia, but is performed while the patient is conscious, but sedated. Using x-ray guidance, the physician inserts a catheter into the femoral artery, channels it to the arteries that supply blood to the tumor. Next, they released a tiny sand-sized embolic agent that is used to block blood flow and cause the fibroid tumor to infarct. After the tumor dies, it shrinks and is reabsorbed by the body. The procedure generally takes around one hour and usually requires an overnight hospital stay. Pain medications and drugs that control swelling are typically prescribed following the procedure to treat cramping and pain.
Many women resume light activities in a few days, and the majority of women are able to return to normal activities within seven to 10 days.