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What Should I Expect from Uterine Fibroid Embolization?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a surgical procedure used to treat uterine fibroid tumors. These tumors, which are also called myomas, grow on the uterine wall. All uterine fibroids are benign, and only rarely become cancerous, but even so may cause unpleasant symptoms. During uterine fibroid embolization procedure, blood flow to the tumors is restricted so that they will shrink.

Uterine fibroid embolization is a variation on a procedure called uterine artery embolization. This latter procedure is used to treat pelvic bleeding, which may be caused by tumors, traumatic injury, or a hemorrhage which develops during or after childbirth. UFE is used specifically to treat fibroid symptoms by shrinking fibroids in the uterus.

Fibroid tumors can cause a range of unpleasant or painful symptoms. These include heavy or irregular menstrual periods, and pelvic pain and cramping. Larger fibroids also exert pressure on the bowel and bladder, which may cause difficulty during urination or bowel movements.

The uterine fibroid embolization procedure involves the use of an instrument called a fluoroscope. This is a type of high-definition camera, used by a radiologist to guide the insertion of a catheter into arteries near the uterus. The catheter is inserted into the femoral artery via a tiny incision in the groin, and then fed through the femoral artery to arteries which supply the uterus with blood.

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Next, a contrast dye is fed through the catheter. This dye helps improve the visibility of the artery for the radiologist to guide the catheter through the artery more accurately. Once the catheter is in the right spot, a drug called an embolic is fed through the catheter and into the uterine artery. The embolic is a drug which blocks the flow of blood to the fibroid tumors in the uterine wall, causing the tumors to shrink over time. This process is carried out twice: first to infuse the embolic into the left uterine artery, and again once the catheter is repositioned to infuse the drug into the right uterine artery.

Most women recover from a uterine fibroid embolization very quickly, because the procedure is minimally invasive. Typically a woman can return home the day after the procedure, and will recover fully within a week or two. Women may experience nausea, cramping, and mild fever for several days following the procedure. Relief from symptoms of fibroid tumors is usually noticeable within a month of the procedure; symptoms may continue to reduce in severity for around six months before stabilizing.

It is generally recommended that women do not undergo UFE if they are pregnant or wish to become pregnant in the future. The camera used in this procedure is an x-ray camera, and x-rays are known to be harmful to a developing fetus. The effects of the UFE procedure on female fertility are unknown, but there is a risk that the procedure may affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant.

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