Frequently Asked Questions
What are uterine artery embolization (UAE) and uterine fibroid embolization (UFE)?
Uterine artery embolization (UAE) or uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) are interchangeably used names for a non-surgical, radiologic procedure for treating single or multiple symptomatic fibroids. This procedure removes neither the uterus nor the fibroids. UAE offers improvement in fibroid-related symptoms by blocking the blood supply to fibroids, inducing shrinkage. The technique was first reported in 1995 as a primary treatment to treat fibroid tumors. It had been previously used for over 20 years, however, in other causes of excessive pelvic bleeding.
UFE is performed by an interventional radiologist, who is specially trained in the procedure. This minimally invasive procedure introduces a thin tube or catheter into the femoral artery in the right groin and guides it through the arterial vasculature to the left and right uterine arteries under x-ray visualization or fluoroscopy. Once in the uterine arteries, the main suppliers of blood for fibroids and the uterus, tiny particles are released to induce arterial blockage. With decreased blood supply, fibroids begin to shrink, bringing improvement in fibroid-related symptoms within weeks to months.
UAE takes approximately one hour. The procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis or with a one night stay at most. Light activity can be resumed after a few days, with full recovery usually in about one week.
Upwards of 90 percent of women may experience some degree of relief from fibroid-related symptoms with UAE. Most women do not experience recurrence of symptoms or regrowth of tumors, although there are no follow-up studies longer than five years.
The desire for future fertility is a relative contraindication to UFE. While there is little data in regarding pregnancy outcomes, the best studies to date, which were published by Jefferson physicians, found higher pregnancy complications in women who had previously undergone UFE compared to the general population and patients who previously underwent myomectomy. Myomectomy remains the gold standard treatment in women desiring future fertility with symptomatic fibroids requiring treatment. More studies are needed to assess the long-term outcomes of UFE and its effects on the ability to conceive and future pregnancies before it can be routine recommended for these women.