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Uterine Fibroid Embolization

This information provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. The information is NOT a substitute for you visiting your doctor. However, as Medical Science is constantly changing and human error is always possible, the authors, editors, and publisher of this information do not warrant the accuracy or completeness of this information nor are they responsible for omissions or errors as a result of using this information.

Uterine Fibroid Embolization: A New Way to Treat Fibroids

Your doctor has told you that you have a fibroid in your uterus. There are several ways to treat fibroids. One way is called uterine fibroid embolization.

First, what are fibroids?
Fibroids are benign growths (not cancer) in the muscular wall of the uterus. These growths can be very tiny or as large as a cantaloupe.

Do fibroids cause problems?
Many women with fibroids don't have symptoms. In other women, fibroids can cause heavy bleeding during the menstrual period. Periods may last much longer than usual. Fibroids may also cause pain or a feeling of pressure or heaviness in the lower pelvic area (the area between the hip bones), the back or the legs. Some women have pain during sexual intercourse. Others have a constant feeling that they need to urinate. There may also be a feeling of pressure in the bowel. Some women have constipation or bloating.

How common are fibroids?
Fibroids are common. Between 20 and 40% of women older than 35 years have fibroids. Black women are at a higher risk of having fibroids.

How are fibroids treated?
There are many treatments for women with fibroids. Medicine can shrink some fibroids. Some women need surgery. A new way to treat women with fibroids is called uterine fibroid embolization.

How does uterine fibroid embolization work?
Fibroids have a large blood supply that makes them grow. Fibroids will shrink or go away completely if the blood supply is stopped. Embolization means stopping or blocking the blood flow. So, uterine fibroid embolization is a way to stop the blood flow that makes fibroids grow. The procedure works even if you have several fibroids.

How is uterine fibroid embolization done?
Uterine fibroid embolization is not surgery, but it's done at a hospital. You will be given medicine to make you sleepy and relaxed. The procedure doesn't cause pain. The doctor (an interventional radiologist who is specially trained to do this procedure) will make a tiny cut in the skin in your groin area. Next, the doctor will pass a tiny tube called a catheter through an artery to your uterus. When the catheter is in place, the doctor will inject tiny particles into the catheter. These particles, made of plastic or gelatin sponge, are about the size of grains of sand. These particles move through the catheter into the arteries that send blood to the fibroid. The particles will stop the blood flow to the fibroid. Over time, the fibroid will shrink in size.

How successful is uterine fibroid embolization?
About 85% of women have a lot of or total relief of pain and other symptoms caused by fibroids.

What are the advantages of uterine fibroid embolization?
There are several advantages. Usually, you only have to stay in the hospital one night after the procedure. You can return to your normal activities about a week after the procedure. This is a much shorter time compared with the 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. There's no significant blood loss. There's no big surgical incision. You don't need general anesthesia.

Are there any side effects from uterine fibroid embolization?
Uterine fibroid embolization is safe, but there are some side effects. Most women have moderate to severe cramps for the first few hours after the procedure. Some women have nausea and fever. Medicine can help with these symptoms. A few women get an infection after the procedure. Antibiotics can control the infection. About 1% of women have an injury to the uterus from the procedure. This could make a hysterectomy necessary. A few women have started menopause after uterine fibroid embolization. Studies about getting pregnant after having this procedure are not complete.

How do I know if this procedure is right for me?
You, your family doctor, your gynecologist and the interventional radiologist will decide if uterine fibroid embolization is right for you. Most insurance companies will pay for this procedure. You will want to talk with your insurance company and your doctors before having this procedure.
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Last modified October 2015