Q and A: Uterine Fibroid Embolization (also known as Uterine Artery Embolization)

Carin F. Gonsalves, MD, FSIR, Co-Director, Division of Interventional Radiology at Jefferson.

This post was written by Carin F. Gonsalves, MD, FSIR, Co-Director, Division of Interventional Radiology at Jefferson.

What are uterine fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are the most common benign (non-cancerous) tumor of the female reproductive tract.  Up to 40 percent of women age 35 and older and up to 50 percent of African American women have uterine fibroids.

What are some of the symptoms associated with uterine fibroids?

Symptoms associated with uterine fibroids include prolonged, heavy menstrual cycles, abnormal bleeding between menstrual cycles, fatigue from iron-deficiency anemia (low blood count), pelvic/back pain, constipation, bloating and urinary frequency.

How are fibroids diagnosed?

Fibroids are diagnosed by physical exam and by imaging techniques such as ultrasonography or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

What is uterine artery (fibroid) embolization?

Uterine artery embolization (UAE) is a minimally-invasive procedure to treat uterine fibroids, which preserves the uterus and is great alternative to surgery.

The procedure is performed by an interventional radiologist while the patient is conscious, but sedated.  Under X-ray guidance, a small hollow tube is inserted into an artery in the groin area.  The hollow tube is manipulated into the uterine arteries supplying blood flow to the fibroids.   Small particles are injected to block blood flow to the uterine fibroids causing them to shrink. A majority of patients are discharged the same day as the procedure

What are the complications associated with uterine artery embolization? 

Infection occurs in a small number (two to three percent) of patients and is usually treated with a course of oral antibiotics.  Injury to the uterus potentially leading to hysterectomy is extremely rare (less than one percent of patients).  Premature menopause is unusual in women under 45 years (three percent).  Passage of fibroids through the cervix may occur in a small percentage of patients.

How successful is uterine artery embolization?

Fibroids typically decrease in size by an average of 50 percent, three-months after UAE.  The success rate for relief of heavy menstrual cycles is more than 90 percent.  The success rate for alleviating bulk-related symptoms (i.e. urinary frequency, bloating and constipation) is greater than 85 percent.

Is uterine artery embolization an appropriate treatment of women who want to have children?

Although women may get pregnant after uterine artery embolization, there is limited research on child-bearing following this procedure.  Typically, myomectomy (surgical removal of fibroids from the uterus) is preferred for young women with fibroids who want to have children in the future.

To learn more about uterine fibroids call 1-800-JEFF-NOW to schedule an appointment or visit Jeffersonhealth.org.

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