Uterine Fibroid Embolization
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Uterine Fibroid Embolization

Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive treatment and non-surgical hysterectomy alternative for fibroid tumors of the uterus (uterine fibroids).

Performed by specially trained interventional radiologists, UFE is one of the most commonly performed procedures at Vascular and Interventional Partners in Phoenix. Usually, UFE procedures are carried out on an outpatient basis, although some patients do require overnight hospital stays. The success rate is high — around 85 percent — with most women seeing at least some improvement in their symptoms.

What Are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids, also known as leiomyomas, are the most common benign tumors in women of reproductive age. These non-cancerous growths of the uterus occur in at least one-half of American women. Statistics suggest up to 80 percent of all women will develop uterine fibroids by age 50.

What Are Uterine Fibroids?
  • Heavy/long menstrual bleeding
  • Lower belly pressure/pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Leg pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation

These symptoms are typically debilitating enough that many affected women seek treatment.

Uterine fibroids can appear as single nodules or in clusters. They can form on any part of the uterus: within the uterine wall, inside the main cavity or even on the outer surface of the uterus. They can range in size considerably from 1mm to over eight inches. Because each uterine fibroid case is unique, treatment plans are highly individualized.

What Is Uterine Fibroid Embolization?

Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a non-surgical procedure performed for the treatment of uterine fibroids. It is also known as uterine artery embolization and is usually recommended when large fibroids cause abnormal menstrual bleeding and/or pain.

Like all embolization procedures, UFE works by blocking blood flow to the affected area. During the procedure, your doctor uses fluoroscopy (a type of continuous x-ray imaging) to guide a catheter with embolic (blocking) agents to the fibroids. Embolic agents — which can be permanent or temporary — cut off blood supply to the fibroids and cause them to shrink.

UFE is usually performed in a cath lab under moderate sedation and using local anesthetics. Some patients may require general anesthesia. A tiny skin puncture in the upper thigh is all that is needed for the entire procedure, which allows for quick recovery and significantly reduces the risk of post-surgery infections. 

Preparing for Uterine Fibroid Embolization

Preparing for Uterine Fibroid Embolization

During an appointment at our Phoenix clinic, we will provide you with detailed instructions on how to prepare for your procedure.

We will take a look at your medical history and perform testing to see if you are healthy enough to undergo this particular treatment. We will also perform an MRI or ultrasound scan of your pelvis to help assess the location, size and number of uterine fibroids. You will need to disclose if you are currently on medication or whether you are pregnant during your examination.

In the days to weeks preceding your scheduled procedure, you will need to stop taking medications and supplements that thin the blood, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), warfarin, vitamin E and certain herbal supplements. This is necessary to help minimize bleeding.

On the night before your procedure, you should not eat or drink anything past midnight. If you do not follow this instruction, the procedure will need to be postponed. Having an empty stomach before treatment involving anesthesia is necessary to prevent food or liquid from accidentally getting into your lungs.

Plan to stay in the clinic for a couple of hours.

Benefits
vs
Risks

Like all medical procedures, UFE comes with risks, but it has an even longer list of benefits for most patients.

Benefits
  • Less invasive than open and laparoscopic surgery for uterine fibroids, making the procedure safe and with fewer side effects
  • No need for stitches
  • Minimal scarring
  • No need for general anesthesia in most cases; general anesthesia comes with its own set of risks and side effects
  • Virtually no blood loss in most cases
  • Relatively quick recovery within five to seven days
  • Highly effective, with studies showing that almost 90 percent of women undergoing UFE notice a significant resolution of symptoms
  • Recurrence of old growths or new growths is rare since UFE targets all existing fibroids at once, even early-stage nodules
Risks
  • Damage to nearby blood vessels, bruising and bleeding at the puncture site
  • Post-surgery infection in the uterus or puncture site, even with regular antibiotic use
  • Embolic agent lodging in the wrong place and depriving normal tissue of oxygen
  • Allergic reactions to the anesthetics or contrast material
  • Possible weakening of the uterine wall, which can complicate delivery and require C-sections
  • Early menopause in very few cases
  • Passing pieces of fibroid tissue, which may require a dilatation and curettage procedure

Learn More about Uterine Fibroid Embolization

Vascular and Interventional Partners is home to some of the most highly skilled interventional radiologists in Arizona. We proudly employ cutting-edge technologies to diagnose and treat patients seeking alternatives to surgery, including embolization for women struggling with the painful and disruptive symptoms of uterine fibroids.

To learn more about this treatment and our philosophy of care, please call (480) 435-9100 or contact the VIP.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How successful is uterine fibroid embolization?

Studies show that nearly 90 percent of UFE patients experience significant or complete resolution of their symptoms.

How much do fibroids shrink with UFE?

On average, fibroids shrink to half their original size, and there is also a 20 percent reduction in their diameter. Besides shrinking, they also soften following UFE, which further helps remove the pressure to nearby pelvic organs.

How painful is uterine fibroid embolization?

The procedure effectively blocks blood flow to fibroid tissue, which inevitably leads to some level of discomfort. Women usually experience pain similar to menstrual cramps. The pain peaks in the day following surgery and should resolve within a week. The VIP team will provide you with a prescription for pain medication upon your discharge to help you feel more comfortable.

What is the recovery time after uterine fibroid embolization?

It usually takes five to seven days to fully recover from UFE procedures.

Is uterine fibroid embolization safe?

Generally speaking, yes. When done by an experienced interventional radiologist, the chances of bleeding, infection and serious complications during and after UFE is less than one percent. 

Is uterine fibroid embolization covered by insurance?

Most insurance companies cover UFE procedures; however, you will need to contact your insurance provider to determine what your specific plan covers. Our in-house precertification specialist can contact your insurance company to get preauthorization for you.

Does uterine fibroid embolization affect pregnancy/fertility?

UFE may affect fertility and pregnancy. That is why this procedure is usually offered to women who no longer plan to become pregnant. UFE procedures have been associated with low birth weight, miscarriage and premature delivery. However, more research is necessary to know how exactly and to what extent UFE affects fertility and pregnancy.