Uterine fibroids, those noncancerous growths that reside in the uterus, can wreak havoc on a woman’s life. From heavy bleeding and pelvic pain to discomfort during intercourse and fertility issues, fibroids can be a source of significant distress. Fortunately, there is an effective minimally invasive procedure called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) that can offer relief for many women.
What is Uterine Fibroid Embolization?
UFE, also known as uterine artery embolization, is a minimally invasive procedure that involves shrinking fibroids by blocking the blood flow that nourishes them. This procedure is performed by an interventional radiologist, a specialized physician trained in minimally invasive procedures, using imaging guidance to navigate the uterine arteries. During the procedure, tiny particles called embolic agents are injected through a catheter inserted into the femoral artery, a major artery in the groin. These particles travel through the uterine arteries until they reach the fibroids, effectively cutting off their blood supply and causing them to shrink and die over time.
Benefits of UFE over Traditional Surgery
UFE offers several advantages over traditional surgical fibroid removal, also known as myomectomy. These benefits include:
- Minimally invasive: UFE is performed through a small incision in the groin, minimizing pain and scarring compared to open or laparoscopic myomectomy.
- Quicker recovery time: Patients typically recover from UFE within 24-48 hours, while traditional surgery may require a longer hospital stay and recovery period.
- Preserves the uterus: UFE leaves the uterus intact, unlike myomectomy, which may increase the risk of complications during future pregnancies.
- High success rate: UFE has a success rate of over 90% in reducing fibroid symptoms, with significant improvements in bleeding, pain, and quality of life.
Candidates for UFE
UFE is a suitable treatment option for women with symptomatic uterine fibroids who:
- Are experiencing heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, or other fibroid-related symptoms that interfere with their daily lives.
- Wish to preserve their uterus.
- Prefer a minimally invasive procedure with a shorter recovery time compared to traditional surgery.
Preparing for UFE
Prior to the UFE procedure, patients will undergo a consultation with their interventional radiologist to discuss their individual needs and medical history. They may also need to undergo imaging tests such as an ultrasound or MRI to map the location and size of the fibroids.
What to Expect During UFE
The UFE procedure typically takes about an hour and is performed under local anesthesia, meaning the patient is awake but pain-free. During the procedure, the interventional radiologist will insert a catheter into the femoral artery in the groin and guide it to the uterine arteries. Tiny embolic particles will then be injected through the catheter to block the blood flow to the fibroids. The patient may experience mild cramping or discomfort during the procedure, which can be managed with pain medication.
Recovery After UFE
Most patients are able to go home the same day after the UFE procedure. They may experience some mild cramping, fatigue, or nausea, which can be managed with pain medication and rest. Patients should avoid strenuous activity for a few days following the procedure.
Long-term Outcomes After UFE
The results of UFE are usually permanent, with significant reduction in fibroid size and symptoms. Most patients experience a noticeable improvement in their quality of life, including reduced bleeding, pain, and discomfort.
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a safe, effective, and minimally invasive treatment option for women with symptomatic uterine fibroids. With its high success rate, shorter recovery time, and uterus-preserving nature, UFE offers a promising alternative to traditional surgery for many women. If you are struggling with fibroid symptoms, talk to United Fibroid & Vascular Centers about whether UFE might be the right treatment choice for you.