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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:
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 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.
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
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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