Uterine fibroids are masses of muscle tissue that grow from the surface of the smooth muscles of the uterus. It can develop from the inner lining or the outer lining of the uterus or it may also develop from a stalk where a growth hangs from. Fibroids are typically noncancerous and even when these growths increase in size and number, it will soon run out of nutrient supply which will ultimately cause the growth to shrivel and die. When growths persist and cause severe complications like heavy bleeding, sharp and severe pain and when the growth add pressure on the bladder or on the large intestine; specialists may advice medical intervention. One of the most popular treatments for uterine fibroids is uterine fibroid embolization or UFE.
What Is Uterine Fibroid Embolization?
Uterine fibroid embolization is basically the treatment of choice for fibroid growths since it is minimally invasive. Other specialists may call UFE as uterine artery embolization and may also be a treatment for other medical conditions other than uterine fibroids.
UFE is done in a sterile surgical environment and with the help of an x-ray camera called a fluoroscope which is used to view the inner structures of the uterus. Not all doctors can perform uterine fibroid embolization, only interventional radiologists and gynecologist who receives specialized training can perform this guided medical treatment.
How Is Uterine Fibroid Embolization Done?
Uterine fibroid embolization is done in a sterile setting together with an imaging device. Initially the patient is assessed for the procedure and scheduled after screening and evaluation.
- The patient is prepared for the procedure by undergoing an initial ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Initial assessment is done to check for the fibroid size, location and the number of growths that are causing symptoms.
- The patient may be sedated for the procedure and be under local anesthesia to reduce any pain, discomfort and stress.
- A fluoroscope is used to be able to visualize the structures of the uterus and the specialists views this through a computer monitor. The incision is made on the skin, usually along the upper thigh where the femoral artery is located. A catheter is inserted in the incision then a contrast material is injected into the catheter.
The contrast material visualizes the structures of the uterus; the specialist takes note of all the blood vessels that supply the fibroid tissue.
- Tiny particles made of gelatin or plastic is injected to the catheter; these particles block the blood vessels that feed the fibroids.
- Imaging is continued until reduction or blood flow to the fibroids is concluded. The specialist will have to be certain that all the structures of the uterine artery are treated especially the branches that supply fibroids with blood and nutrients. Only one incision is done since the femoral artery is a huge blood vessel that supplies blood to the entire uterine cavity.
- The procedure is done after 1 to 2 hours and afterwards, the patient is given medications for pain and to control nausea or vomiting. A patient may be admitted or confined overnight after the procedure to assess any adverse effects of the treatment and to assess the condition of the patient as well.
Who Are Perfect Candidates To Undergo UTF?
Uterine fibroid embolization has been used for decades to treat fibroids surgically and in a less invasive way. However not all women are candidates for this procedure:
- Women who wish to bear children are not advised to undergo uterine fibroid embolization since it completely blocks the blood flow to the lining of the uterus that may lead to permanent infertility.
- Typical candidates are women who are diagnosed with malignant gynecological tumors or have cancerous growths. This can safely reduce the growth of tumors before it can spread and affect nearby organs from the uterine cavity.
- Women who have suffered hemorrhage or massive bleeding after giving birth usually undergo uterine fibroid embolization since the procedure effectively blocks the arterial system that supplies blood to the uterus.
- Women who have experienced trauma that leads to massive bleeding are perfect candidates for uterine fibroid embolization since it can effectively control bleeding.
Are there any complications of the surgery?
Uterine fibroid embolization is very effective and studies show that about 90% of women who have underwent UFE and UAE have experienced complete recovery from uterine fibroids along with treatment from fibroid symptoms like pain, bleeding, difficulty in urination and difficulty in moving the bowels.
But along with these benefits are some complications that any woman who wishes to consider uterine artery embolization should know about:
- Since the particles that are used to block the blood flow to the fibroids may also block the rest of the uterus’ blood supply, it may lead to infertility. Although there are a small percentage of women who have had healthy pregnancies after uterine artery embolization, the risk is still a huge thing to consider. Therefore, specialists often consider other treatments like individual removal of each growth rather than risk suffering from irreversible infertility.
- There is a small percentage of the population that may progress to premature menopause after the surgery since blood flow may restrict to the uterine wall causing the decrease in the delivery of female reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone.
- Women who undergo uterine artery embolization are at risk of infection due to the use of a catheter to deliver particles of gelatin and an imaging material to visualize the uterus. However, if the procedure is done in a sterile environment and good wound cleaning is done after the procedure, the risk of suffering from infection may decrease.
- There is also the likelihood of any minute particles to travel and dislodge to any blood vessel. Particles may travel to the lungs affecting normal breathing and may also cause increased blood pressure. There is also the possibility of suffering from an allergic reaction from the contrast material used. An allergy history before the procedure can minimize this complication.
So, Uterine fibroid embolization is the last resource for cure the fibroids but you can to find other alternatives like natural treatments that balance your body and prevent the growth of fibroids.