What is Uterine Fibroid Embolization?
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive treatment for fibroid tumors of the uterus. The procedure is also sometimes referred to as Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE), but this term is less specific and, as will be discussed below, UAE is used for conditions other than fibroids. Fibroid tumors, also known as myomas, are benign tumors that arise from the muscular wall of the uterus. It is extremely rare for them to turn cancerous. More commonly, they cause heavy menstrual bleeding, pain in the pelvic region, and pressure on the bladder or bowel.
In a UFE procedure, physicians use an x-ray camera called a fluoroscope to guide the delivery of small particles to the uterus and fibroids. The small particles are injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. These block the arteries that provide blood flow, causing the fibroids to shrink. Nearly 90 percent of women with fibroids experience relief of their symptoms.
Because the effect of uterine fibroid embolization on fertility is not fully understood, UFE is typically offered to women who no longer wish to become pregnant or who want or need to avoid having a hysterectomy, which is the operation to remove the uterus.
What to expect
In this procedure, x-ray equipment, a catheter and a variety of medications and synthetic materials, called embolic agents, are used. The equipment typically used for this examination consists of a radiographic table, an x-ray tube and a television-like monitor that is located in the examining room. Fluoroscopy, which converts x-rays into video images, is used to watch and guide progress of the procedure. The video is produced by the x-ray machine and a detector that is suspended over a table on which the patient lies.
How does the procedure work?
The procedure involves inserting a catheter through the groin, maneuvering it through the uterine artery, and injecting the embolic agent into the arteries that supply blood to the uterus and fibroids. As the fibroids die and begin to shrink, the uterus fully recovers
Imaging of the uterus by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound is performed prior to the procedure to determine if fibroid tumors are the cause of your symptoms and to fully assess the size, number and location of the fibroids. Occasionally, your gynecologist may want to take a direct look at the uterus by performing a laparoscopy. If you are bleeding heavily in between periods, a biopsy of the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) may be performed to rule out cancer.
You should report to your doctor all medications that you are taking, including herbal supplements, and if you have any allergies, especially to local anesthetic medications, general anesthesia or to contrast materials containing iodine (sometimes referred to as “dye” or “x-ray dye”). Your physician may advise you to stop taking aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or blood thinners for a specified period of time before your procedure.
You will likely be instructed not to eat or drink anything after midnight before your procedure. Your doctor will tell you which medications you may take in the morning. You should plan to stay overnight at the hospital following your procedure.