Karen Garby, MD, is an Interventional Radiologist with Desert Endovascular Center and Banner Desert Medical Center.
Question. My doctor told me I have Uterine Fibroids. What are they, and what are my options?
Answer: Approximately 25 million women in the United States suffer from uterine fibroids – non-cancerous growths that cause serious complications such as heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, pressure and bloating, and frequent urination. In fact, 30-50 percent of women over the age of 40 have some fibroid related symptom and one in every three of these women experiences symptoms so debilitating that her everyday life is greatly impacted.
Uterine fibroids affect women of all ages and backgrounds, but especially those of childbearing age, those of African-American descent, and those who are overweight or obese. One of the most common treatments for fibroids is hysterectomy, the complete removal of the uterus, which requires general anesthesia, and five-to-six weeks to recover. Approximately 600,000 women undergo a hysterectomy in the United States each year.
Although several other treatment options exist for women with fibroids, they may not be discussed with patients. One such option is uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), a non-surgical procedure performed by an Interventional Radiologist or IR. IR’s are specially trained physicians who perform minimally-invasive procedures with the guidance of medical imaging. During UFE, the Interventional Radiologist carefully injects tiny particles into blood vessels to block the blood supply to fibroids, causing them to shrink and stop causing symptoms. The procedure is performed in about 1-2 hours and does not require general anesthesia or incisions. Patients stay in the hospital overnight and usually return to their normal level of activity after one week.
Studies have shown that 85-95 percent of women have marked improvement in their uterine fibroid symptoms three-to-six months after undergoing UFE. UFE is associated with fewer complications than surgery and has been successfully used to treat over 100,000 women worldwide.