Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a treatment for uterine fibroids in which a material injected into the uterine artery blocks blood flow to the fibroid, causing it to shrink and eventually die.
A small nick is made at the groin and the femoral artery (the large artery that runs the length of the femur, or thigh bone), and a tube called a catheter is inserted into the femoral artery and fed into the uterine artery. The catheter is guided using special x-ray imaging called fluoroscopy. Once the catheter is in place, tiny particles called polyvinyl alcohol material (PVA or emboli) are injected into the uterine artery. Polyvinyl alcohol material is made up of plastic particles, each about the size of a grain of sand, which travel through the uterine artery and block blood flow as the artery narrows, cutting off the blood supply of the uterine fibroid. The polyvinyl alcohol material is injected until all the blood vessels flowing to the fibroid are completely blocked. Once the blood supply to the fibroid is blocked, the fibroid stops growing and dies.
After treatment, patients will experience some discomfort (pain or nausea), and vaginal bleeding or passing of fibroid tissue (if fibroids are in the inner uterine lining) may occur. Also, patients may experience irritation or bleeding at the incision site. In rare cases, patients have suffered infections, prolonged pain, fever, damage to the reproductive tract, or buildup of dead tissue in the uterus, which may require antibiotics or a D&C (dilatation and curettage) procedure to remove tissue that is not being absorbed or passed by the body. There is also concern among some that the exposure to radiation during the procedure places patients at risk, though research so far has not proven that this is the case.
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Last updated: 06-Jun-07