If you’ve been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, you may have been told that surgery is essentially your only treatment option. However, the vast majority of women with symptomatic uterine fibroids have options besides hysterectomy. In particular, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a non-surgical, FDA-approved alternative that has been used to successfully treat uterine fibroids for over 20 years.
Compared with surgery, women treated with Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) have:
- Significantly shorter hospital stays; typically one day
- Quicker recovery and ability to return to work, often within one week
- No surgical incision
- No need for general anesthesia
- Spares the uterus and maintains the potential for future fertility
How Uterine Fibroid Embolization Works
Uterine fibroids require the female hormone, estrogen, to stay alive and grow. The goal of UFE is to block the supply of blood to the fibroids so that the fibroids do not receive estrogen. Here’s how it works:
- A doctor will position a catheter through a small skin incision in your leg into the blood vessels of the uterus using X-ray guidance.
- Once the catheter is suitably positioned, tiny gelatin beads will slowly be released through the catheter to block the blood supply to the fibroids.
- Once the blood supply is successfully blocked, the fibroids will shrink and soften. This will result in resolution of symptoms in over 90 percent of patients.
What to Expect from Uterine Fibroid Embolization
UFE is performed in an area of the hospital called Interventional Radiology. In this department, many types of conditions in addition to uterine fibroids are treated with X-ray guidance and non-surgical techniques so that traditional surgery is able to be avoided.
The only preparation for UFE is to not eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of the procedure. Patients can take their regular medications the morning of the procedure with a small amount of water. Patients will come to Interventional Radiology on the morning of the procedure. The procedure will then be performed in an Interventional Radiology suite with advanced imaging equipment.
One of the main benefits of UFE is that general anesthesia is not required, as the procedure itself is not particularly painful. Patients cannot feel the catheter moving inside them during the procedure, nor can they feel the particles being infused.
Near the end of the procedure, once the blood supply to the fibroids has been reduced, the uterus responds by cramping. This is a predictable response and is treated with pain and nausea medications.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization Recovery
After UFE, you will stay in the hospital overnight to make sure pain and nausea is suitably controlled.
The vast majority of patients will leave the hospital the next morning. Most patients will still have some cramping and nausea but this tapers off over the course of the next several days. Most patients report that they feel back-to-normal within seven days of having the UFE procedure.