Fibroids are common growths that develop in the uterus of women during their childbearing years. These noncancerous tumors can cause a range of symptoms, including heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, and pressure. Although there are various treatment options, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) has emerged as a minimally invasive alternative to hysterectomy in recent years.
What is uterine fibroid embolization (UFE)?
UFE is a minimally invasive procedure that cuts off blood supply to fibroids, causing the tumors to shrink and eventually die. A radiologist performs the procedure by guiding a small catheter through a blood vessel in the groin to the uterine artery. Tiny particles are then injected into the artery, blocking the blood supply to the fibroids.
What happens to the fibroids after UFE?
After UFE, the fibroids undergo a process called necrosis, where the tissue dies and becomes reabsorbed by the body. This process can take several months, depending on the size of the fibroids. It is important to note that the fibroids do not disappear immediately after the procedure, and patients may experience some ongoing symptoms during the recovery period.
What are the benefits of UFE?
- Significant improvement in fibroid symptoms, including heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, and pressure
- Non-surgical approach with no incisions or scars
- Shorter recovery time compared to hysterectomy or myomectomy
- No impact on fertility for women who wish to have children in the future
- Lower risk of complications compared to surgical options
What are the possible risks and complications of UFE?
While UFE is generally considered safe, it is important to understand the potential risks and complications. These may include:
- Minor to moderate pain and discomfort after the procedure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
- Small risk of infection or bleeding
- Small risk of damage to nearby organs, such as the bladder or bowel
Who is a candidate for UFE?
UFE may be a suitable option for women who:
- Experience significant fibroid symptoms, such as heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, or pressure
- Have fibroids that are causing anemia or other health complications
- Wish to avoid surgery or are not candidates for surgery due to other health conditions
- Are not planning to have children in the future
What is the recovery process after UFE?
The recovery process after UFE varies depending on the patient and the size and location of the fibroids. However, most patients can expect to:
- Experience some mild to moderate cramping and discomfort after the procedure
- Return to work and normal activities within one to two weeks
- Experience ongoing fibroid symptoms, such as heavy bleeding, for several weeks or even months after the procedure as the fibroids die and are absorbed
- Follow up with a healthcare provider to monitor the progress of the fibroids
What are the long-term outcomes of UFE?
Studies have shown that UFE can provide long-term relief of fibroid symptoms for up to 10 years or more. However, it is important to note that fibroids may regrow over time, requiring additional treatment.
The Bottom Line
Uterine fibroid embolization is a safe and effective treatment option for women who suffer from significant fibroid symptoms. While the recovery process may take several weeks or even months, patients can expect significant relief from their symptoms in the long term.
- ACOG Committee Opinion No 754: The Utility of and Indications for Routine Pelvic Examination. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol. 2018;131(4):e216-e220.
- Laughlin-Tommaso SK, Stewart EA. Uterine leiomyomas: individualizing the approach to a heterogeneous condition. Obstet Gynecol. 2017;130(1):171-191.
- Spies JB, Roth AR, Jha RC, et al. Leiomyomata treated with uterine artery embolization: factors associated with successful symptom and imaging outcome. Radiology. 2002;222(1):45-52.
- Stewart EA. Uterine fibroids. Lancet. 2001;357(9252):293-298.
- Q: Can uterine fibroids come back after UFE?
- A: While UFE can provide long-term relief of fibroid symptoms, the fibroids may regrow over time, requiring additional treatment.
- Q: How long does it take for fibroids to shrink after UFE?
- A: The fibroids undergo a process called necrosis, where the tissue dies and becomes reabsorbed by the body. This process can take several months, depending on the size of the fibroids.
- Q: Is UFE covered by insurance?
- A: UFE is often covered by insurance, but it is important to check with your healthcare provider and insurance company to make sure.
- Q: Will I still have a period after UFE?
- A: Most women will still have a period after UFE, but the bleeding may be significantly reduced.