Uterine artery embolization is a minimally invasive treatment for uterine fibroids which are common benign (non-cancerous) growths in the uterus. Uterine fibroids cause a number of unpleasant symptoms, including pelvic pain and bleeding. Uterine fibroid embolisation (UFE) is performed to reduce the symptoms caused by fibroids whilst avoiding surgery.
The procedure is performed under local anaesthesia and mild sedation and usually involves a very short stay in hospital in most cases just an overnight stay. Most procedures do not take very long, usually an hour and a half. The interventional radiologist makes a small nick in the skin (less than one quarter of an inch) in the groin to access the femoral artery, and inserts a slender flexible tube called a catheter into the artery.
The catheter is threaded through the artery to the uterus while the interventional radiologist guides it with the help of a moving X-ray (fluoroscopy). X-ray dye is injected into the catheter to visualize the blood supply to the fibroids. After identifying abnormal arteries supplying blood to the fibroids, the interventional radiologist injects tiny plastic particles the size of grains of sand (called embolic agents) into the artery. This cuts off the blood flow to the fibroids, starving them of blood and causing them to shrink and die over the following few weeks after the procedure – therefore becoming much smaller in size and also stopping them bleeding.
The tiny skin puncture where the catheter was inserted is cleaned and covered with a bandage. After the procedure pain-killing and anti-inflammatory medication is typically prescribed to treat cramping and pain and most patients are discharged the following morning. Most women resume light activity after a few days and the majority of women are able to return to normal activity within one week. Follow-up involves clinical and ultrasound check-up one month and three months after the procedure and an MRI pelvis usually three months after the procedure to accurately evaluate the result.