Uterine Fibroid Embolization
You don’t have to live with the heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain, urinary incontinence and frequency caused by uterine fibroid tumors. You also don’t need to live with the unintended consequences of hysterectomy. We treat painful uterine fibroids through a non-surgical procedure called Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE).
What You Need To Know
The cause of uterine fibroids is not well understood, although they are more common in women of reproductive age. Other risk factors include:
- A family history of fibroids
- Early onset of puberty
For many women, symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
- Significant bleeding
- Pelvic pain and pressure
- Increased urination frequency
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Backache or leg pain
While uterine fibroids can often be controlled through diet, exercise and medication, severe symptoms often require surgical options like a hysterectomy (removal of uterus) or myomectomy (removal of the tumors). While these options are generally effective at treating the fibroid symptoms, they often result in a new set of problems.
Risks associated with hysterectomy:
- Requires general anesthesia
- Results in lengthy recovery
- Presents higher complication rates than uterine fibroid embolization
- 15-30% of women report decreased sexual function and increased rates of depression after having a hysterectomy
- Incidence of cardiovascular disease increases (up to 3 times)
- Increased chance of developing pelvic floor problems including incontinence
Advantages of UFE
- Minimally-invasive treatment option
- Outpatient procedure
- Greatly reduced recovery time (return home the same day; return to normal activities within one week)
- Safer than a hysterectomy
- No need to remove uterus
- Covered by most insurance plans
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive, non-surgical procedure that cuts off the blood supply to the fibroid. When the fibroid no longer has blood to nourish it, it begins to soften and eventually shrinks on its own. Many women experience significant symptom relief when this happens. UFE requires only a local anesthesia and a mild sedative, so it can be performed in an outpatient setting. That means no incisions, no general anesthesia and a much shorter recovery time compared with surgical treatments like hysterectomy.
What To Expect
Once we work with you to determine a treatment plan, one of our vascular staff or interventional radiologists will review any pre- and post-instructions for your procedure. You will be walked through your procedure so you know exactly what to expect. If you have questions, at any time, please ask. We want you to feel informed every step of the way.
If you’ve been told you have uterine fibroids, you’re probably weighing your treatment options. Here are a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself:
- Do I want to have children in the future?
- Do I want to avoid taking hormones or going through early menopause?
- Am I worried about complications, such as pain or infection, from a major surgery?
- Would I prefer a minimally invasive treatment rather than having major surgery?
- Would I prefer a shorter recovery time?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions then a UFE procedure may be the best option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions about Uterine Fibroid Embolization
What is uterine fibroid embolization (UFE)?
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive, non-surgical procedure that shrinks fibroids by eliminating their blood supply. When the fibroid does not have blood for nourishment, it shrinks and begins to break down.
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
Symptoms for uterine fibroids include significant bleeding as well as symptoms related to the size of the fibroids such as pelvic pain and pressure, increased urination frequency, constipation, discomfort during sexual intercourse, bloating and backache or leg pain.
How is the procedure performed?
UFE is performed in an outpatient setting and is non-surgical. Using a real time form of X-ray called fluoroscopy for guidance, a catheter (small tube) will be guided to your uterine artery. Once in place, an FDA-approved material will be injected into the arteries that deliver blood to the fibroids. Once the artery is completely blocked, the fibroid(s) will no longer have a regular supply of blood which will cause it/them to shrink over time, thus reducing or eliminating symptoms.
How painful is fibroid embolization?
UFE is a minimally invasive procedure, which means it is not surgical. During the procedure, pain is minimal. You will be given a local anesthetic shot at the puncture site near the wrist and will be given sedation for the procedure. Immediately following the procedure, a majority of patients develop pain as the fibroids shrink. This pain typically begins immediately after the procedure and may increase over the few days following the procedure.
Does uterine fibroid embolization really work?
According to the Society of Interventional Radiology approximately nine out of 10 women who undergo uterine fibroid embolization will experience significant improvement, or their symptoms will go away completely.
Can fibroids grow back after embolization?
A successful UFE procedure treats all fibroids that are present on the day of the procedure, regardless of size, number or location. Once fibroids lose their blood supply and die off, they do not regrow. It is possible for women to develop new fibroids after a UFE procedure. Then, a second UFE procedure may be required. Once menopause is reached, fibroids no longer continue to grow.
How long does a UFE procedure take?
A fibroid embolization procedure takes approximately one hour to perform.
How long does it take for fibroids to shrink after embolization?
The fibroid begins to shrink after the blood supply is reduced. Most women start to feel symptom relief within a few weeks. By the second period following the UFE, many women see a dramatic decrease in bleeding. Bulk-related symptoms should begin to improve six to eight weeks after the procedure, with continued shrinkage of the fibroids within the year.
What is the recovery time for uterine fibroid embolization?
The typical recovery time is seven to ten days following UFE. Some women recover more quickly. Generally, women return to most of their normal activities within this timeframe.
How successful is uterine fibroid embolization?
Studies have shown that nearly 90 percent of women who undergo UFE experience significant or complete resolution of their fibroid-related symptoms. Heavy menstrual bleeding is reduced for 85-95 percent of patients and bulk related symptoms, such as pelvic pain, pelvic pressure, frequent urination, constipation, back pain and painful intercourse, are reduced in 80-95 percent of patients following UFE.
What are the side effects of uterine fibroid embolization?
The most common side effects include pelvic pain/cramping, nausea, and low-grade fever. These symptoms are typically easily managed in the outpatient setting with oral medications and medicated patches.
Who performs uterine fibroid embolization?
Uterine fibroid embolizations are performed by interventional radiologists. You will want a physician that is board certified and has extensive experience in treating uterine fibroids.
How long does an embolization procedure take?
A fibroid embolization procedure takes approximately one hour to perform. Most women are ready to go home within a few hours following the UFE procedure.
What are the benefits of uterine fibroid embolization?
This non-surgical procedure provides shorter recovery time and lower complication rate than surgery, all fibroids can be treated simultaneously, preserves the pelvic floor and you get to keep your uterus.
Can UFE be performed regardless of the number and size of the fibroids?
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) can be performed regardless of the number of fibroids. All fibroids are treated simultaneously so the length of the procedure is the same whether you have a single fibroid or multiple fibroids. This technique is especially important in those with multiple fibroids because management of symptoms is more difficult to accomplish by surgical procedure without complete removal of the uterus (hysterectomy).
UFE can be performed regardless of fibroid size. The presence of a very large fibroid may slightly alter the procedural approach and follow up plan. Our interventional radiologists work with you during your consultation to develop an individualized treatment plan. Size, number, and location of your fibroid/s are all considered when formulating this plan.
Is UFE right for me?
The procedure is an alternative to surgical procedures and allows a woman to keep her uterus. If you want to have children in the future, are worried about complications from a major surgery, would prefer a minimally-invasive treatment or want a shorter recovery time than surgery then this procedure may be right for you.
Can you still get pregnant after a uterine fibroid embolization?
Many women have healthy pregnancies after uterine fibroid embolization. Recent information shows us there is no significant difference in pregnancy rates after UFE when compared to uterus preserving surgical fibroid removal (myomectomy). Removal of the entire uterus (hysterectomy) eliminates the possibility of pregnancy.