Plenty of us suffer from fibroids (medical term is myoma), which are benign tumors that form in the uterus. Up to 40 percent of all women will be diagnosed with fibroids at some point in their lives, but only a relative few have severe symptoms. If you’re among the unlucky ones, and you’ve had to cope with extreme cramps and heavy bleeding during your period, backaches, painful sexual intercourse, or urinary problems, you might believe that the only way to end the misery is by getting a hysterectomy.
But there is another treatment, one that has been proven effective for many women, and doesn’t require surgery. Uterine artery embolization (UAE) is a minimally invasive outpatient or inpatient procedure performed by an interventional radiologist. Using a small x-ray camera (fluroscope), small, inert particles (embolic agents) are injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into the arteries that nourish the fibroids and essentially block the blood flow, thus causing the fibroid to shrink.
A recent study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that for the vast majority of women, five years after the procedure was done, UAE had relieved symptoms enough so that a hysterectomy was not required.
Of course, any procedure has risks and there is always the possibility of side-effects from any treatment. But for women who suffer greatly from painful fibroids, who want to avoid a hysterectomy, UAE is an alternative worth considering.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH