Uterine fibroids, called leiomyomas, can cause abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding and abdominal pain. Uterine fibroid embolization is a highly effective yet minimally invasive treatment for uterine fibroid tumors.

What is uterine fibroid embolization?

Uterine fibroid embolization is a form of uterine artery embolization. It is a non-surgical procedure. An embolic agent is injected into the arteries, interrupting the blood supply to the fibroids. Lack of blood flow causes the fibroids to become smaller and eventually die.

The procedure successfully diminishes fibroids and relieves their symptoms. There may be complications if the blood flow to your ovaries or other organs is impaired, but uterine fibroid embolization risks are roughly the same as surgical options.

Why would I need uterine fibroid embolization?

Uterine fibroids are extremely common structural abnormalities that can sometimes cause severe physical discomfort. There are several treatment options, including surgery, but uterine fibroid embolization offers excellent outcomes. Approximately 90% of patients experience a near-total or total alleviation of symptoms.

Uterine fibroid embolization might not be the optimal treatment approach for every patient. For example, treatment might not be appropriate for people who wish to preserve fertility. The ideal candidate is a patient whose fibroid tumors do not exceed 10 cm in diameter.

Uterine fibroid embolization is highly effective and a welcome alternative to a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) or myomectomy (surgical removal of uterine fibroids) but doesn’t require significant recovery time.

What does uterine fibroid embolization do?

Uterine fibroid embolization is a technique that introduces embolic particles (polyvinyl alcohol flakes) into the arteries that supply blood to the fibroids. Cutting off blood flow to the uterus creates a hostile environment for the fibroids, causing them to shrink and ultimately die off.

A nurse or physician will give you an intravenous sedative before the procedure. Typically, patients only require a local anesthetic, but general anesthesia might be necessary under certain circumstances. In some instances, a contrast material will be injected so your physician can easily visualize the arteries.

Your doctor, an interventional radiologist, will insert an extremely narrow catheter into the femoral artery through an incision in the groin. The process is guided by X-ray or ultrasound imaging.

Once the embolic particles have been released into the arteries, the catheter will be removed, and the incision area will be sealed. 

How do I prepare for uterine fibroid embolization?

Your doctor will provide you with detailed instructions for preparing for the procedure. However, you will likely be required to undergo several tests and procedures to assess the size of the fibroids and rule out cancer. These tests might include:

Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure involving inserting a small tube outfitted with a camera into the abdomen to view the reproductive organs.

Endometrial biopsy: The extraction of a piece of the uterine lining for testing. This diagnostic procedure is performed to check for signs of cancer or cellular abnormalities.

Make sure to discuss the following with your healthcare provider prior to either of these tests:

  • Any medications or supplements you are currently taking
  • Whether you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, or want to become pregnant in the future
  • Any allergies to contrast materials or antibiotics

How long does uterine fibroid embolization take?

The uterine fibroid embolization treatment usually takes one to three hours.

Does uterine fibroid embolization have any risks?

Following your physician’s aftercare instructions will significantly reduce the likelihood of complications. However, there is a minor risk of the following:

  • Blood vessel damage from the insertion of the catheter
  • Allergic response to the embolic agent
  • Allergic response to the contrast material
  • Infection

Additionally, some people experience menopause after uterine fibroid embolization, though it only occurs in 5% of patients.

If you have concerns about uterine fibroids, please contact our helpful representatives to schedule a consultation today.