What are uterine fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that grow on or within the lining of the uterus. They can range in size from as small as a grape to as large as a cantaloupe. Approximately 20-40% of women over age 35 have fibroids, and African-American women are at a greater risk for developing them.
Fibroids can result in pelvic pain or discomfort, urinary incontinence, frequent urination and heavy menstrual bleeding. The location and size of uterine fibroids can affect the severity of these symptoms and impact your quality of life. Fibroids are also hormonally sensitive, so the symptoms can be cyclical, just like with menstruation.
Uterine Fibroids are categorized based on their location. The three main types are: intramural, submucosal, and subserosal. Pedunculated uterine fibroids grow on a stalk.
Traditional Treatment Options
If your fibroids are not causing pain or other symptoms, treatment is not necessary. Your OB/GYN might wish to monitor their growth during annual examinations. Hormone treatment medication is an option to relieve symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure, although medication cannot eliminate fibroids and often has side effects, such as weight gain, vaginal dryness and infertility.
Surgery, in the form of hysterectomy (removal of the entire uterus) or myomectomy (removal of fibroids from within the uterus) are options that are used today. However, surgery is expensive, requires a long and sometimes painful recovery and results in scarring. Myomectomy is the preferred treatment for women who wish to become pregnant, and/or to improve their chances for becoming pregnant.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)
UFE is a less invasive, FDA-approved and highly effective approach for treating fibroids. It is performed by a specialized doctor called an interventional radiologist, who uses X-ray imaging to guide a catheter through the femoral artery in the groin to the uterine artery. When the catheter has reached the location of the fibroids, the radiologist embolizes or “blocks” the blood vessels that feed the fibroid, depriving it of oxygenated blood. The fibroid then shrinks and the symptoms gradually disappear.
UFE is performed on an outpatient basis. The procedure takes less than an hour, and the patient may return home less than 24 hours after the procedure. Is UFE right for me?
You may be a candidate for uterine fibroid embolization if you:
- Are experiencing the symptoms of uterine fibroids
- Are not or no longer wish to become pregnant
- Are seeking an alternative to hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)
- Wish to avoid surgery or are a poor candidate for surgery
It is not known the long term effects that UFE has on a woman’s ability to become pregnant. If you decide on UFE, becoming pregnant in the future can be extremely difficult; although some women have had successful pregnancies after UFE. As with all medical procedures, talk to your doctor if you have questions, and to help determine if UFE is right for you.
Radiology Associates of Hartford
UFEs are performed at St. Francis Health Medical Center by the Interventional Radiology team at Radiology Associates of Hartford (RAH). The interventional radiologists at RAH who perform this procedure have undergone additional, specialized trained in imaging-guided uterine fibroid embolization.
We are central Connecticut’s premier radiology team, comprised of more than 20 board certified radiologists, dedicated to providing the most advanced minimally invasive treatments, the highest quality imaging interpretations and the best possible care for patients.