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Struggling with Fibroids? Uterine Fibroid Embolization Can Offer Relief

If you’ve been diagnosed with a uterine fibroid, the good news is that your general health is likely not in jeopardy. Nearly all uterine fibroids—the most common tumors of the female reproductive system—are benign. This means that they don’t cause cancer or spread elsewhere.

However, the not-so-good news is that uterine fibroids can have a significant impact on quality of life. They can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, pain and pressure in your pelvis, bloating, constipation, and they may increase the frequency of urination. Fortunately, there are a range of treatments, from hormone therapy to major surgery that can provide relief. Perhaps the most promising among them is a treatment called uterine fibroid embolization, or UFE.

“Surgery for uterine fibroids may involve long recovery periods and hormone therapies may not produce long-lasting results,” said Naishadh Shah, DO, chief of Interventional Radiology at Abington-Jefferson Health. “In comparison to surgery, uterine fibroid embolization is a less invasive, lower risk procedure which typically has a shorter recovery period, and may result in a significant or complete reduction in symptoms.”

The Anatomy of a Uterine Fibroid

Uterine fibroids are found in a woman’s uterus, or her womb. They are made up of the same muscle fibers as the uterine wall, but they are much denser and usually round.

Fibroids can be found in several different places in the uterus. Many women experience them—some studies show that up to 80 percent of women will have a uterine fibroid by age 50—and usually they don’t cause any symptoms. They don’t affect ovulation, but they may lower your chance for becoming pregnant or maintaining your pregnancy.

How Uterine Fibroid Embolization Works

A doctor called an interventional radiologist will insert a catheter into the patient’s arm or groin. The doctor guides this catheter through the arteries to the blood vessels that supply blood and nutrients to the fibroid.

“We’ll then perform the embolization, which involves releasing small particles about the size of a grain of sand into these blood vessels,” said Dr. Shah. “These particles block the blood supply to the fibroid, which causes it to shrink in size and cause fewer symptoms like bleeding.”

Preparing for the procedure is fairly simple. Like other procedures that involve anesthesia, you’ll have to stop eating and drinking the night before your UFE. The procedure itself lasts about an hour and you’ll stay in the hospital overnight for monitoring and to manage your pain.

“Most patients start feeling like themselves again in three to five days, and can resume daily activities and light exercise,” said Dr. Shah. “You can return to work in a week or two, based on your doctor’s advice and recommendation.”

While UFE has not been proven to improve your fertility, it does have the potential to provide relief without completely removing the uterus, which happens during a hysterectomy.

Is UFE Right for You?

UFE may not be an option for some patients, including women who have an active pelvic infection, certain bleeding problems, very large fibroids, or endometrial cancer. The procedure can also cause scarring and damage to the uterus that could affect fertility.

If you have symptoms that may be related to a uterine fibroid, talk to you doctor to see if UFE could be an option for you.

For information about physicians who perform this procedure, please call 215-481-MEDI.

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