Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive way of treating fibroid tumors of the uterus. Fibroid tumors, also known as leiomyomas, are masses of fibrous and muscle tissue in the uterine wall which are benign, but which may cause heavy menstrual bleeding, pain in the pelvic region, or pressure on the bladder or bowel. With angiographic methods similar to those used in heart catheterization, a catheter is placed in each of the two uterine arteries and small particles are injected to block the arterial branches that supply blood to the fibroids. The fibroid tissue dies, the masses shrink and, in most cases, symptoms are relieved. Uterine fibroid embolization, performed under local anesthesia, is much less invasive than open surgery to remove uterine fibroids. The procedure is performed by an experienced interventional radiologist – a physician specially trained to perform uterine fibroid embolization and similar procedures.
Uterine fibroid embolization was first used to limit blood loss during surgical removal of fibroid tumors. It was found that after embolization and while awaiting surgery, many patients no longer had symptoms. Frequently, the operation itself proved not to be necessary. Today, uterine fibroid embolization is used as a stand-alone treatment for women who have symptom-producing uterine fibroids.
By far, the most common reason for embolizing the uterine arteries is to treat symptoms caused by fibroid tumors. This is accomplished by stopping the growth of fibroid tumors and attempting to shrink them. Because the effects of uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) on fertility are not yet completely established, the ideal candidate is a pre-menopausal woman with symptoms from fibroid tumors who no longer wishes to become pregnant, but wants to avoid having a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus). Uterine fibroid embolization may be an excellent alternative for women who, for reasons of health or religion, do not want to receive blood transfusions-as may be necessary if open surgery is performed. The procedure also benefits women who, for any reason, cannot receive general anesthesia. Embolization of the uterine arteries may also be used to halt severe bleeding following childbirth or caused by malignant gynecological tumors.