A uterine fibroid is a non cancerous tumor; a fibrous growth that is seen to be present in the uterus. Uterine fibroid embolization or uterine artery embolization as it is also called is one of the procedures used to treat the uterine fibroids though the latter procedure may be also be used for other problems such as hemorrhage after childbirth and other kinds of heavy bleeding from the uterus.
What is uterine fibroid embolization?
The usual treatments for fibroids are medications to shrink the fibroids or surgery to remove them.
However, this treatment called uterine fibroid embolization, is relatively new and works by blocking the blood supply that feeds the fibroids to help.
Here the technique used in angiography is used to put a catheter in the arteries of the uterus by injecting small particles (spheres or beads made from plastic or gelatin sponge) to block the arteries that supply blood.
An x-ray camera called a fluoroscope is generally used for this procedure.
When the blood supply to the fibroids ceases, the fibroids are seen to degenerate and the symptoms that result from the fibroids such as excessive bleeding, pelvic pain etc, are seen to reduce or resolve.
The procedure is said to be minimally invasive (compared to surgery) and does not require general anesthetic in most cases, though heavy sedation is generally administered.
Usually there is only one overnight stay in hospital required. Since the procedure is done without making an incision there is generally no scarring and little loss of blood.
How effective is uterine fibroid embolization?
This procedure is thought to be very effective in combating the symptoms of fibroids. An estimated 80% women reported that their pelvic pain is gone after undergoing the procedure.
For the heaviness or feeling of compression that women report as being one of the symptoms of uterine fibroids, between 60 and 96% women report very significant improvement. Up to 95% women report that the symptoms of excessive or abnormal bleeding are also resolved after the procedure.
Embolization of uterine fibroids is thought to be a viable option to avoid surgery and may even be a way to avoid hysterectomy.
What are the side effects of uterine fibroid embolization?
The procedure of uterine fibroid embolization is not yet fully understood and what effects it can have on a woman’s fertility is a subject matter of debate. So, this treatment is generally advisable for those women who have had children or those that do not wish to become pregnant.
Some of the possible side effects that may follow the procedure are some low grade fever, mild nausea and cramps in the pelvic region for some days afterwards.
In rare cases organ failure and pus formation can result from the embolism. In some cases, endometriosis or uterine infection may also result due to the dying of the fibroids.
If the particles injected travel or migrate to other parts of the body, organ damage such as ovarian damage and consequent loss of ovarian function may result.
So when considering uterine fibroid embolization, the possible side effects and complications as well as who is the right candidate should be discussed thoroughly with the doctor.