Uterine fibroids are very common non-cancerous growths that develop in the uterus. They can range in size from the size of a pea to larger than a cantaloupe. In most cases, there are multiple fibroids in the uterus. 10 to 20 percent of women who have fibroids require treatment. Depending on size, location and number of fibroids, they may cause:
- Heavy, prolonged menstrual periods
- Pelvic pain and pressure
- Back pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bladder pressure leading to frequent urination
- Abnormally enlarged abdomen
Women typically undergo an ultrasound to determine the presence of uterine fibroids. MRI is used by interventional radiologists, because it provides more details. Patients should be aware of all of their treatment options. Patients considering surgical treatment should also get a second opinion from an interventional radiologist, who is most qualified to interpret the MRI and determine if they are candidates for the minimally invasive uterine fibroid embolization (UFE).
(Revised and updated photo, courtesy: Advanced Vascular & Interventional Center)
UFE is performed by an interventional radiologist while the patient is conscious, but sedated and feeling no pain. It does not require general anesthesia. The interventional radiologist makes a tiny nick in the groin and inserts a catheter in the femoral artery. Using real-time imaging, the physician guides the catheter and then releases tiny particles, the size of grains of sand, into the uterine arteries that supply blood to the fibroid. This blocks the blood flow to the fibroid and causes it to shrink over time.
UFE can be done as an outpatient basis and patient typically goes home the same day. Pain and anti-inflammatory medication are prescribed following the procedure to treat cramping and pain. Many women resume light activities in a few days and return to normal activities within a week.
On average, 85-90 percent of women who have had the procedure experience significant or total relief of heavy bleeding, pain and/or bulk-related symptoms. The procedure is effective for multiple fibroids and large fibroids. UFE is a very safe and well tolerated procedure. The complication rates are lower than those of hysterectomy and myomectomy.
UFE is not new. It has been used successfully by interventional radiologists for more than 20 years. It is covered by most major insurance companies. Most women with symptomatic fibroids are candidates for UFE and should see an interventional radiologist to determine whether UFE is a treatment option for them.
Dr. Saeed graduated from University of Houston Honors program. After attending medical school, he completed his diagnostic radiology training at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans. Following his residency, he attended the prestigious Brown Medical School and Rhode Island Hospital for his Vascular and Interventional Radiology fellowship. He opened his own practice, Advanced Vascular & Interventional Center, where he performs outpatient, minimally invasive interventional radiology procedures, including UFEs.