Freedom From Uterine Fibroids

UFE As An Alternative Treatment Option

by Raleigh Radiology // October - November - December 2021

For many women, uterine fibroids can have a significant impact on their quality of life. They find it difficult to go to work or leave their homes on certain days of their menstrual periods for fear of excessive and uncontrollable bleeding. While there are numerous treatment options, most require major surgery, which isn’t ideal for most women.

What are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors or growths that appear in a woman’s uterus during her reproductive years. They can cause heavy menstrual bleeding; severe cramping pain; periods that last longer than normal; breakthrough bleeding between periods; and even abdominal pain and pressure, bloating, constipation, frequent urination, and pain during intimacy. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 70% or more women have uterine fibroids by age 50.

UFE as an Alternative Treatment

Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive, non-surgical option for treating these growths. Board certified interventional and vascular radiologist Dr. Jamie Doster of Raleigh Radiology says, “UFE is a common alternative treatment option and is successful for about 90% of patients. It has a much shorter recovery time and helps women avoid major surgery. With this procedure, we take away the blood supply to the fibroids, which then causes them to shrink and die off. They are no longer hormonally active, which helps eliminate the heavy and breakthrough bleeding. The shrinkage of the fibroids also helps with the feeling of abdominal bloating and pressure. After this procedure, patients can go back to work much sooner than with a hysterectomy. From a financial perspective, the procedure is often more affordable than surgery as well.”

How Does UFE Work?

To confirm she is a candidate for UFE, the patient will first receive an MRI to check the anatomy of the fibroids, determine where they are located, and ensure no other complications are present. After this MRI and a pre-planning consult where the MRI results and details of the procedure are discussed, the patient is scheduled for her UFE at a local hospital.

“It’s a very technical and precise procedure. The interventional radiologist uses a catheter inserted through the uterine artery to inject tiny beads into the blood vessels that feed the fibroids, the blood flow to the fibroids is blocked, and they will all begin to shrink,” says Dr. Doster.

UFE can be performed trans-radially, or through a tiny incision in the wrist for about 90% of patients. For the other 10%, the procedure is performed through a tiny incision at the groin. With the wrist incision, a patient can get up and walk very soon after her procedure. In total, uterine fibroid embolization takes about one to two hours. When the procedure is finished, patients either stay overnight, or in some cases, may be able to leave the hospital on the same day.

What is Recovery Like?

According to Dr. Doster, during the first 24 to 48 hours following the procedure, a patient will typically remain in bed for that time and may experience pain, abdominal cramping, fatigue, or vomiting. These symptoms usually resolve within a week, and patients are then able to return to work or their normal daily activities. While patients do not experience the total loss of their menstrual periods after UFE, periods are smaller and less impactful. Some patients may continue to have slight discomfort and spotting for two to three menstrual cycles before they report a complete improvement.

“The complete resolution of symptoms is our ultimate goal, and most patients come back to tell us their symptoms are gone or significantly improved,” said Dr. Doster. “It’s remarkable and very rewarding when we can help these women take back their quality of life.”

Each patient should receive a call from the doctor’s office one week after the procedure and should have a follow-up appointment with her interventional radiologist one to three months following. Based on age, a small subset of women may have a recurrence of symptoms within five years, possibly due to the growth of new fibroids; however, these patients are typically younger women (around age 30) who are years away from menopause. For these patients, having a second UFE will help. The symptoms of uterine fibroids typically resolve with menopause for most women.

Dr. Doster concludes, “For women who suffer from uterine fibroids, UFE offers them a chance to stop living in fear of their menstrual periods and gives them more freedom to enjoy their lives again.”

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