For decades, women with fibroids in their uterus have been offered two options to manage their symptoms – hysterectomy, to surgically remove the uterus, or tolerate the pain and wait till symptoms improve on its own thus preserving their child-bearing and hormone-producing abilities. Modern medicine offers many better treatment options and Fibroid Embolization is one of those.
Fibroids, which are abnormal growths, typically non-cancerous or benign, in or on a woman’s uterus can become large and cause major discomfort. It can also exist with no symptoms or signs at all.
Abnormally heavy or long periods, intermittent bleeding, back or pelvic pain, painful intercourse, pressure in lower abdomen, enlargement of abdomen, and increased urination are major troubling symptoms and women who experience them crave for a relief. Fibroids, at their worst, can even result in infertility, premature labor, and miscarriage.
A treatment plan for the fibroids is usually devised based on your age, overall health, fibroid size, and its location.
Medications exist which will cause your estrogen and progesterone levels to drop and regulate your hormone levels which will eventually stop the menstruation and shrink fibroids.
Myomectomy is a surgical option which involves making a large incision in the abdomen to access the uterus and remove the fibroids. Performed laparoscopically, using a few small incisions into which surgical tools and a camera are inserted, there are chances that fibroids might grow back after surgery.
Hysterectomy is the last option, where the uterus is surgically removed, and you won’t be able to bear children in future.
A minimally invasive procedure called Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE), has gained attention recently. This is a procedure that prevents certain arteries from supplying blood to the affected area and “starves” the fibroids of the blood they need to grow. With the blood supply cut off, the tumor masses die, develop into scar tissue and the fibroids later shrink in size.
How is UFE performed?
Local anesthesia is administered, following which an interventional radiologist will make a tiny cut in the skin in the groin area. Using X- ray assistance and periodic injections of a contrast material, a tube called catheter is inserted. Catheter is guided to the fibroid’s blood supply where small particles are released. These embolic agents float downstream and block the small blood vessels to deprive the fibroid of nutrients. Once the arteries that provide the blood flow are blocked, fibroids begin to soften, bleeding less, and starting to shrink.
What will you experience during the procedure?
You will feel a slight pinch when the needle is inserted into your vein for the IV line and when the local anesthetic is injected. The skin incision site will be numbed using local anesthetic. However, there will not be any major discomfort.
You may or may not remain awake, depending on how deeply you are sedated. You may feel slight pressure when the catheter is inserted into your vein or artery. As the contrast material passes through your body, you may feel warm. But this will quickly pass. Depending on your recovery, your doctor will advise when you should be able to return home after the procedure – usually on the same day of the procedure or the next day. With the medications, you should be able to return to your normal activities within one to two weeks after UFE.
In two to three weeks, relief to your symptoms will be noticeable and for over few months the fibroids continue to shrink and soften. By six months, the process is usually finished, and your symptom improvement will stabilize. Nearly 90 percent of women experience significant improvement and relief from their symptoms.
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