Also known as UFE or Uterine fibroid embolization, Uterine Artery Embolization is a procedure that is carried out by a radiologist to remove or shrink the size of uterine fibroids. It works by blocking the blood flow to the uterine fibroids. This is a better alternative to surgery for fibroids for women who are not actually planning for a pregnancy in the future.
How it works
A sedative would be given to you an hour before the procedure, to help you relax
A catheter which is a thin flexible tube is first placed into a blood vessel within your upper thigh and something called contrast material is injected into it. As this material travels up your uterus, you may come across a warming sensation.
Using real-time X-ray, the radiologist will see the arteries on a video screen, which helps him guide this catheter to your arteries that supply blood to your fibroid.
Once connected, a solution of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) particles would be injected through the catheter, into your uterine arteries.
Once these particles start building up they begin to block the blood flow to your fibroid.
The procedure may take anywhere between one and three hours, depending on how easy it is to insert the catheter into your arteries.
Side Effects & Risks
Uterine Artery Embolization might damage your uterus or one of your ovaries, making it difficult for you to get pregnant. Even if you do, the pregnancy may be associated with high risks.
It may not be safe for you, if you are allergic to the contrast material that is used in this procedure.
There might be a possibility of a delayed infection in the very first year, which could prove fatal if left untreated.
The other risks may include premature menopause, amenorrhea, adhesions or scar tissue formation and prolonged pelvic pain
Apart from the above risks, Uterine artery embolization is also associated with side effects such as:
Nevertheless, these can be controlled through proper medication. Any passing of fibroid tissues however should be reported immediately to rule out possibilities of infections or problem bleeding. If anything goes wrong a hysterectomy is usually recommended if not a repeat UFE.
Preparing for Uterine Artery Embolization
You may want to stick to your doctor’s instructions once you have decided to go for uterine artery embolization. You may be asked to stop drinking and eating a few hours before the procedure. In case you are required to take some medication, you may have it with just a tiny sip of water.
It is better to inform your doctor about any allergies or ailments you may have had before and any medications you might be taking much before the procedure starts. You may be asked to stop taking aspirin or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs about a week before the day of the procedure.
What to Expect after Uterine Artery Embolization?
After the uterine artery embolization, the first thing that happens is the removal of catheter. During this process, some amount of pressure would be applied for about ten to fifteen minutes at the puncture site. Once removed, a bandage would be applied. You will then be asked to rest for about 6 hours in your bed.
After this rest of 6 hours, you may be asked to go home in case your pain is under control. Else, you may have to stay in the hospital for the night, for observation and pain-control.
Post-discharge you may experience vaginal bleeding for a few weeks. This is because of the breaking down of the fibroid. In about seven to ten days you will be able to resume your normal activities.
Follow-up care would be recommended that might include one checkup every three weeks or so. You may be asked to go for an MRI or ultrasound after about three or six months.This should be good enough to monitor your condition and make sure you recover completely.
Results of Uterine Artery Embolization
With proper follow-up care Uterine Artery Embolization can produce excellent results. In most cases it has been successful in reducing the size of the fibroids to about half their original size.
80 out of every 100 women who have undergone Uterine Artery Embolization have reported relief from their symptoms However, it may not be the permanent cure for uterine fibroids. In fact, one out of every five women who have had Uterine Artery Embolization, have had to undergo a repeat procedure or a hysterectomy at some point of their life.