How Uterine Fibroid Embolization Works

If you have heavy menstrual bleeding and periods that last longer than usual, you may want to consider uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). A treatment for uterine fibroid tumors, UFE can help block the flow so you can return to your normal life. Here's what you need to know about UFE so you can begin to decide if the procedure is right for you.

woman with hand on stomach
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What Are Uterine Fibroid Tumors?

Uterine fibroid tumors, also called fibroids, are noncancerous growths in the walls of the uterus that affect between 20% and 40% of women over the age of 35. Sometimes, women don't know they have fibroids because they are not causing any symptoms, while other women will experience heavy menstrual bleeding and periods that last longer than usual. Other symptoms that fibroids may cause include:

  • Pain or a feeling of pressure or fullness in the pelvic area, back, or legs
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Constant feeling of a need to urinate
  • Feeling of pressure in the bowels
  • Constipation
  • Bloating

How UFE Works

Fibroid tumors grow because they have a large blood supply. If you stop the blood supply, through UFE, fibroids will shrink or go away completely. Although uterine fibroid embolization is done in the hospital, it is not surgery. Before the procedure begins, patients are given sedatives to help them relax, and the procedure does not cause pain.

A specially trained doctor called an interventional radiologist will perform the procedure, starting with a tiny incision in the groin area. A very small tube called a catheter is passed through the incision into an artery to the uterus.

Next, the doctor injects tiny particles, about the size of a grain of sand, into the catheter. The particles move through the catheter into the arteries that supply blood to the fibroid to stop the flow of blood, which causes the fibroid to shrink or disappear completely over time. The procedure has an 85% success rate and most women can return to normal activities after one week.

Side Effects

UFE is considered a very safe procedure. But as with any procedure, there is a certain amount of risk involved. Most women can expect moderate to severe cramps for the first few hours after the procedure, and some women may experience nausea and fever. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help with these common side effects.

Though rare, infections, treatable with antibiotics, can occur following the procedure. infection occurs, antibiotics are prescribed. Although rare, injury to the uterus occurs in about 1% of procedures and can make a hysterectomy necessary. Some women report immediate menopause following the procedure, and studies about getting pregnant following uterine artery embolization are incomplete.

Is UFE Right for You?

If your fibroid tumor symptoms are interfering with your day-to-day activities, you may want to consult with your doctor to find out if UFE is the right treatment choice. Together, you can rule out other options and create a plan. The good news, on top of the procedure being very safe and effective, is that most insurance companies cover UFE. Be sure to check with your insurance provider before scheduling an appointment.

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  • ACOG Issues Opinion on Uterine Artery Embolization for Treatment of Fibroid Tumors.