• Uterine Artery Embolization

  • Uterine artery embolization (also called UAE or uterine fibroid embolization) is a procedure to treat fibroids (non-cancerous growths in the uterus) using radiology instead of surgery. Fibroids are the most common type of growth in a woman’s pelvis. About forty percent of women older than 35 have some fibroids. The procedure shrinks the fibroids by cutting off their blood supply.

    Many women’s fibroids are asymptomatic, but for some they cause:

    • Longer or more frequent menstrual periods
    • Menstrual pain
    • Pelvic pain or pressure in the lower abdomen
    • Heavy bleeding
    • Pain during intercourse
    • Infertility or miscarriages
    • Low blood count, anemia
    • Waking at night to urinate
    • Constipation

    Most women don’t undergo UAE until they’ve tried other treatment options, such as medications and hormones. Sometimes women have UAE after childbirth to treat very heavy vaginal bleeding. UAE is not considered a good choice for women who wish to get pregnant in the future because menstrual periods may not return after the procedure. Pregnancy is also not usually recommended after uterine artery embolization, although it is possible to become pregnant. For this reason, your doctor may suggest birth control pills.

    UAE Procedure

    UAE is performed by a physician called an interventional radiologist. To perform the embolization, the radiologist inserts a small tube, called a catheter, into a large blood vessel in your inner thigh and then threads it through your uterine artery, the artery that supplies blood to the uterus. The radiologist then injects tiny plastic or gelatin particles into the blood vessel, which block the blood flow to the nearby fibroids. The procedure essentially starves the fibroids of the nourishment they need to grow, reducing the size of fibroids an average of about 50%.

    Within several months after a UAE, the fibroids shrink back, although new ones may grow in their place. UAE can be painful and you will be given a type of anesthesia called conscious sedation. This means you will be awake but won’t feel pain during the procedure, which takes about 45 to 60 minutes. You may need to stay in the hospital overnight, but most women recover quickly and return to their everyday activities within seven to 10 days.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Studies find that UAE has an overall patient satisfaction rate similar to hysterectomy and myomectomy, which are the surgical options for treating uterine fibroids. Most women find uterine artery embolization works well to decrease their pain, pressure, and bleeding. It is less invasive than hysterectomy or myomectomy and offers shorter hospital stays and a quicker return to everyday activities. However, UAE is associated with more minor complications and an increased chance you’ll require surgery within two to five years. In some cases of infection or uterine damage, UFE has led to a need for a hysterectomy.

    If you’re considering a UAE procedure to treat uterine fibroids, your doctor will discuss the procedure in detail so you can make an informed decision that works for you.

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