Understanding UFE – The Risks and Advantages
What is Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)?
Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is a well-established, proven, minimally invasive procedure using interventional radiology techniques to destroy fibroids in the uterus by depriving them of their blood supply. More women are asking for UFE as it is a safer non-surgical alternative to a hysterectomy. UFE is less invasive, does not require removal of your uterus, involves a shorter recovery time, and results in a significant reduction or elimination of symptoms.
The UFE procedure involves the injection of tiny particles into the artery leading to the fibroid to cut off the blood flow to the tumor. Once the artery is completely blocked, the fibroid will no longer have a regular supply of blood causing the tumor to shrink and reduce or eliminate symptoms.
If you have been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, you may have been told you need surgery for the partial or complete removal of your uterus. This news is upsetting and overwhelming for women. Now, there is a procedure available for the treatment, reduction and in some cases elimination of fibroid tumors that does not require surgery, and allows you to keep your uterus.
How Does the UFE Procedure Work?
During the Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) procedure, a catheter is inserted into the artery leading to the fibroid tumors in the uterus. Tiny particles are inserted into the artery to block the blood flow. This causes the hard fibroid to soften, liquefy, shrink, scar, and even disappear completely in some cases.
The average reduction in a fibroid tumor’s volume after UFE treatment is 40% by the third month, and 65% after the sixth month. This leads to a 90% reduction in symptoms.
It is important to note that UFE does not always reduce the size of fibroid tumors. However, the fibroids treated by UFE are no longer hard like rocks and become soft. As a result of UFE, even fibroids that don’t reduce in size may still result in a 90% reduction in symptoms.
How is the UFE Procedure Performed?
The Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) procedure is similar to a heart catheterization procedure. The UFE procedure takes approximately one hour in which time patients are asleep using a conscious intravenous sedation. Local anesthesia is also used.
A catheter or thin tube is positioned under x-ray guidance into the blood supply of the uterine artery. Tiny particles are injected which are specifically sized for the blood vessels of the fibroid tumor. The tiny particles may be made of organic compounds such as polyvinyl alcohol particles or acrylic materials such as Embospheres.
UFE is typically performed as an outpatient procedure at an ambulatory center. Patients will need someone to drop them off the morning of the procedure, and pick them up the same afternoon. The average recovery time is 4 days.
What are the Risks with UFE?
Serious complications occur in less than 0.5% of women who receive UFE treatment for fibroid tumors. No deaths have been associated with this procedure to date. While Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is much safer than surgery, there are some risks to consider.
- A small percentage of patients can an allergy to the x-ray contrast used during UFE procedures. In the rare event an allergic reaction occurs, the patient is given medicine to reverse and stop the effects immediately.
- Abdominal cramps and pain after a UFE procedure are common in most women and may be intense. The pain usually occurs soon after the procedure and plateaus within 6 hours. Abdominal discomfort may last up to two weeks after UFE treatment but typically improves each day. Pain medications may be used to manage pain during this time.
- Approximately 5% of all women who undergo a UFE procedure will experience fibroid slough in which fibroid material becomes trapped in another area of the uterus, such as the cervix, as it is being expelled. Fibroid slough can cause labor-like pain, fever and also increase the risk for infection. The patient is placed on antibiotic therapy and watched closely for 24 hours. Only 1 in 1,000 patients are not able to pass the material on their own and may require an elective outpatient D&C.
- The UFE procedure may adversely affect fertility. However, most medical studies show a number of patients were able to become pregnant and deliver full-term babies after UFE at a much higher fertility rate than those who had a surgical myomectomy.
- Approximately 2% of all women who undergo a UFE procedure will start menopause. The large majority of these women are over 45 years of age. A smaller percentage of women that enter menopause after UFE are between 40 and 45 years of age. It is rare for a woman under the age of 40 to enter menopause after UFE.
What are UFE advantages?
Patient satisfaction is high, complications are low, and no deaths have been reported. The benefits and advantages of UFE are significant.
- There is no need for hospitalization as UFE is performed as an outpatient treatment in an ambulatory center.
- There is a much shorter recovery time with UFE than for surgery, such as a hysterectomy or myomectomy. The average recovery time after UFE is 4 days up to one week away from work versus 2-3 months for traditional surgical procedures.
- UFE is minimally-invasive and non-surgical. Conscious intravenous sedation and local anesthesia are used in place of general anesthesia. There is no surgical incision only a small nick in the skin easily covered by a small bandage and healed in a week’s time without any noticeable scar.
- Medical studies have reported a success rate of over 90% by women who have opted for UFE.
- The average reduction in a fibroid tumor’s volume after UFE treatment is 40% by the third month, and 65% after the sixth month. This leads to a 90% reduction in symptoms. The remaining 10% of patients reported slight improvements or no change, but not worse symptoms.
- Patients reported an improvement in their sex life following the UFE procedure, increased desire and frequency, and less pain during intercourse.
Find Out if You Are a Candidate for UFE
If you have been experiencing symptoms, or have been diagnosed with fibroid tumors, you may be a candidate for Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). In order to properly diagnose fibroid tumors in your uterus and determine if you are a candidate for UFE, you need to consult with a qualified fibroid specialist.