If you’ve been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, has your doctor discussed all your fibroid treatment options with you? Uterine fibroid embolization, or UFE, is a minimally invasive procedure that shrinks fibroids nonsurgically and relieves fibroid symptoms by blocking the blood flow to the fibroids. As first-line therapy for women with symptomatic fibroids, it has significantly shorter recovery times than surgical procedures, and as such, should be considered as a less invasive but equally effective alternative. 

If you’re interested in learning about UFE, here are 5 things to know:  

It’s been around for decades

UFE isn’t a new-age procedure, but its name has changed over the years. Its inception was in 1974 when Parisian neuroradiologist Dr. Jean-Jacques Merland first used uterine artery embolization to treat a woman suffering from severe menstrual bleeding caused by fibroids. Based on his success, in the early 1990s French gynecologist, Dr. Jacques Ravina, began to use uterine artery embolization to prep women for fibroid surgery when he realized that following the procedure, patients’ fibroids shrank or disappeared altogether.

From that point on, the research and science grew, and today uterine fibroid embolization is recognized as UFE, an effective, minimally invasive non-surgical fibroid treatment method. Currently, UFE is used to treat approximately 14,000 cases of fibroids annually in the United States. Researchers estimate that UFE successfully reduces fibroids by 42 percent to 83 percent and that the majority of women – 71 percent to 92 percent – experience alleviation of fibroid-related symptoms.

It treats fibroids less invasively

UFE is nonsurgical and *almost* non-invasive. The procedure involves making a tiny incision in the artery that is located in the upper thigh or the wrist so that the interventional radiologist performing the procedure can go in with a very thin catheter and make their way into the uterus to locate and block only the arteries that are feeding the fibroids blood. Starved of its blood supply, this causes the fibroids to shrink or disappear entirely over time, leading to a dramatic decrease in fibroid-related symptoms.

It’s an alternative treatment to hysterectomy

In the U.S., hysterectomy – removal of the uterus – is the second most commonly performed surgery among women after Caesarean section. However, one out of five women who undergo a hysterectomy may not need it at all, estimates a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. For women with fibroids looking to explore other options, UFE is a uterus-sparing alternative that helps women restore their fertility and quality of life.

In a study comparing outcomes of a group of 111 patients who either underwent an abdominal myomectomy (44 women) or UFE (67 women), the following success rates were observed:

  • Menorrhagia (abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding) was successfully reduced in 64% of abdominal myomectomy patients and 92% of uterine fibroid embolization patients.
  • The pain was successfully reduced in 54% of abdominal myomectomy patients and 74% of uterine fibroid embolization patients.
  • Mass effect was successfully reduced in 91% of abdominal myomectomy patients and 76 percent of uterine fibroid embolization patients.
  • The complication rates associated with patients treated with abdominal myomectomy were 25% compared to 11% for uterine fibroid embolization.

It’s clear that UFE is an effective treatment option that provides significant fibroid symptom control without the risks of surgical procedures.

It can be used to make surgery safer

In complicated medical situations where surgery is needed, a combination approach with UFE can make surgery safer. “Without getting into too much detail, we have a patient we need to do surgery for who has significant anemia,” says Dr. James Gohar, Ob/Gyn and Founder of Viva Eve. “Her blood levels are very low, and so, rather than committing to doing surgery immediately, and knowing that she’ll have a really high chance of needing a blood transfusion, we are going to do an embolization on her first. Then we’ll operate with the hope that we have a really good chance of avoiding a transfusion.”

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If you’ve been diagnosed with fibroids, it may be helpful to ask a specialist about minimally invasive therapies like UFE. There are several factors that will determine which is the best course of treatment for you, including your age, your risk factors, your medical history, and how severe your symptoms are. It’s best to discuss these with your doctor. 

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