For most women, fibroid embolization, also referred to as uterine artery embolization (UAE), is a highly effective treatment that may help reduce inflammation and pain from uterine fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are defined as benign (non-cancerous) tumors that grow on your uterus. They typically appear in women between the ages of 35 and 50. African-American women and those with a family history are more likely to develop fibroids.
Even though these tumors are not malignant, they can cause prolonged bleeding, anemia, abdominal swelling and pelvic pain. They are also the leading cause of hysterectomies in pre-menopausal women. For women who do not meet the criteria for the minimally invasive procedure, hysterectomies and other surgical procedures are available. Ineligible candidates for fibroid embolization include:
- Post-menopausal women
- Women who desire to maintain their fertility and are candidates for myomectomy
Factors contributing to fibroid embolization include:
- Symptomatic fibroids before menopause
- Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods
- Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods
- Anemia (a condition in which your blood lacks red blood cells)
- Pelvic pain (caused as the tumor presses on pelvic organs)
- Lower back pain
- Pain during intercourse
Risks and side effects for this procedure include:
- Premature menopause
- Loss of menstrual periods
- Formation of scar tissue
- Pain (for more than 48 hours)
- Low-grade temperature
Patients are admitted for uterine artery embolization on the day of the procedure. The embolization procedure is performed early in the morning and usually takes between 60 to 90 minutes. The procedure begins with preparation of the woman’s groin with a sterile soap and a local anesthetic. An intravenous antibiotic is given as well as an intravenous sedative, if needed.
After embolization, you can expect to have pelvic pain in the form of cramps. This typically lasts a few days and rarely can last up to several weeks. Most women resume their normal routine within one week. A low-grade fever (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), light intermittent spotting of blood and passage of small amounts of tissue can be expected after the procedure.
Studies both in Europe and in the United States reveal a success rate of approximately 85-90 percent with regard to control of heavy menstrual bleeding and excessive menstrual pain. All fibroids in the uterus are treated simultaneously during the procedure, resulting in this high success rate.
Shrinkage of the fibroids can be expected after UAE. Though results vary, many studies reveal an average reduction of approximately 40-60 percent. There is only a small chance that existing fibroids might re-grow or that new fibroids might appear after UAE.
Your physician will perform several tests before referring you to an interventional radiology department for consultation for a UAE.