UFE procedure is one of the best minimally invasive alternative to hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus). The procedure is performed by an interventional radiologist trained to diagnose and treat medical conditions using image-guided techniques.
What Is Uterine Fibroid Embolization?
Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is a non-surgical, uterine-sparing (fertility-preserving) method of treating fibroids. This procedure involves cutting off the amount of blood that supplied to the fibroid thereby causing the fibroids to shrink. Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is also called Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE).
How’s UFE Performed?
UFE procedure begins with the Interventional Radiologist inserting a catheter through a tiny incision around the groin area or wrist into the targeted uterine artery, and then guides it to the location of the fibroid tumor. When the catheter is in position, the Interventional Radiologist uses fluoroscopy (a real-time x-ray) to guide the injection and delivery of embolic agents to the uterus and fibroids. These agents block the arteries that provide oxygenated blood to the fibroids and cause them to shrink. The embolic agents remain permanently in the blood vessels at the fibroid site. Usually, with the same incision process, the catheter is then moved to the other side of the uterus. Once the embolization has been completed on both sides of the uterine artery, the catheter is then removed.
The UFE procedure is performed under light (conscious) sedation and local anesthesia. UFE is usually an outpatient procedure, and the entire UFE treatment typically lasts less than one hour and is. However, patients can also decide to spend the night at the hospital to ensure they are comfortable before going home the next day. Recovery typically takes less than one week.
Advantages of UFE
UFE is a safe treatment option for uterine fibroids. Just like any other minimally invasive procedures, UFE has significant advantages over conventional open surgery. That’s why 90% of all women were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” at final follow-up after UFE.
The key benefits are
- Preservation of the uterus
- A decrease in heavy menstrual bleeding from symptomatic fibroids
- Reduction of urinary dysfunction
- Reduction of pelvic pain and pressure
- Virtually no blood loss
- Typically performed as an outpatient procedure
- Offers a shorter hospital stay and a faster return to work when compared to having a hysterectomy2
- The safe procedure that involves minimal risk and fewer complications after 30 days when compared to having a hysterectomy2
- Overall, significant improvement in the patient’s physical and emotional well-being
- Covered by most insurance companies
Lohle, P. et al. Long term outcome of uterine artery embolization for symptomatic uterine leiomyomas. JVIR 2008; 19:319-326
Spies J et al. Outcome of uterine embolization and hysterectomy for leiomyomas: results of a multicenter study. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 2004;191: 22-31.
What Are The Risks Associated with UFE?
Although UFE complications are rare, here are some of the risks associated with UFE;
- It can lead to the damage of blood vessels: Insertion of the catheter could damage other blood vessels in the area, or cause an infection. However, the risk of this occurring is less than 1% when an experienced Interventional Radiologist performs the UAE.
- The embolic agent could be deposited in an unintended blood vessel, choking off blood supply to healthy tissue.
- Premature menopause: In about 1 percent to 5 percent of women, menstrual cycles will shut down permanently following uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). This usually occurs in women over the age of 45.
- Vaginal discharge/infection
- Transient amenorrhea
- An allergic reaction to X-ray contrast dyes could occur.
- The younger a woman is at the time of UFE, the higher the chances that symptoms could return and a hysterectomy might eventually be needed.
- Embolization of non-target organs (bowel, bladder, nerves, and buttock)
- Sexual dysfunction related to non-target embolization (cervicovaginal branch)
- Common short-term allergic reaction/rash
- Post-embolization syndrome (post-procedure pain, fever, tiredness, and elevated white blood cell count)