What is a Uterine Fibroid Embolisation?
Uterine Fibroid Embolisation (UFE), also known as Uterine Artery Embolisation (UAE), is a way to treat the symptoms of fibroids without having surgery.
Fibroids are benign growths (non-cancerous) in the uterus. They are common in fertile women and usually shrink after the menopause. The majority of fibroids are asymptomatic (without any obvious symptoms) and are either not known about by the individual or are found incidentally on examination or medical imaging.
Fibroids can cause symptoms depending on their size and location. Symptoms include heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, increased period pain, increasing need to pass urine (frequency) and may be associated with infertility.
How Uterine Fibroid Embolisation is done
UFE is a medical procedure and is performed in a hospital or day care facility. You will usually be asked to have only a light breakfast or fast. Blood tests may be requested to see if you have any kidney or blood related problems.
What happens during a Uterine Fibroid Embolisation?
You may be anxious, and the staff are well trained and expecting this. It is common to receive an injection of sedative medication (usually through the drip) .
The UFE begins with a needle and wire being placed into the artery, usually the left radial artery in the wrist (which you can feel pulsating). This is the preferred method, however, sometimes arteries in the groin are used. The overlying skin will have been injected with local anaesthetic to make it go numb. You do not have feeling inside the blood vessels, so you do not usually feel anything during the procedure. Once the wire is put into the artery a plastic tube known as a catheter is steered into the arteries supplying blood to the fibroids. Most commonly these are the right and left uterine arteries, but also occasionally the ovarian arteries or other arteries supply the fibroids.
Blood supply to the fibroid is stopped by injecting tiny particles of plastic known as polyvinyl alcohol or cis acryl gelatin. Once this has been completed, the catheter is removed and a small pressure strap is applied to the wrist. The procedure is now finished and you will be taken back to the ward.
What are the risks of a Uterine Fibroid Embolisation?
Like any medical procedure, UFE is associated with some risks or complications. However, these are usually less than with other procedures to treat uterine fibroids including uterine surgery. Currently the procedure is performed from an artery in the wrist which makes it much more comfortable and decreases the risk of any haemorrhage in the pelvis or groin area.
Benefits of a Uterine Fibroid Embolisation
The major benefit of UFE is that it is an effective treatment for fibroids that are causing you to experience symptoms of pain, heavy periods, etc., while keeping the uterus, and which does not involve surgery. It is regarded as effective and safe for short and long term treatment of symptomatic fibroids.