Hippocrates referred to them as “uterine stones.” In medieval times, women who had them were said to possess evil spirits.1 And despite the fact that uterine fibroids are nothing more than noncancerous tumors of the womb, historically they’ve been misunderstood. But fortunately, advancements in medicine have increased the knowledge surrounding this condition as well as the number of treatment options available to women.
Gone are the days when surgery was the only choice of therapy. Now, minimally invasive procedures, like uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), provide women with an option that alleviates symptomatic fibroids—all while avoiding both major surgery and a long recovery.
The procedure itself is performed by an interventional radiologist and takes approximately one hour. A small incision is made in the thigh and a thin catheter is threaded through the femoral artery and then into the uterine arteries that feed blood to the fibroids. Tiny microspheres called embolics are injected into the uterine arteries, blocking blood flow to the fibroids, causing them to shrink. By doing so, UFE can ease abnormal bleeding and pressure symptoms along with preventing further growth, even in women with large fibroids.
Although considered a newer approach, UFE has been used for decades as a means of controlling heavy bleeding after giving birth.2 UFE’s first success in treating actual fibroids dates back to 1974. A Parisian neuroradiologist, Dr. Jean-Jacques Merland, was the first to treat a woman who suffered from severe menstrual bleeding due to fibroids.3
Following this achievement, Dr. Merland teamed up with gynecologist, Dr. Jacques Ravina. Together, they used UFE to reduce blood loss during the surgical removal of fibroids—a procedure called myomectomy. Nearly two decades later in 1993, Dr. Merland and Dr. Ravina opened a center that allowed them to study the safety and effectiveness of UFE. Their initial studies showed UFE to completely resolve symptoms in almost 70 percent of patients.3
Today, UFE’s success continues to be on the rise with current statistics showing a 90 percent cure rate.4 And even though UFE’s trusted procedure technique has essentially stayed the same for over 40 years, physicians and researchers are constantly striving to improve every woman’s experience.
By reexamining each step of the procedure, significant facets of UFE such as new and more effective pain management protocols are emerging and superior embolics5 are being discovered—all with the goal of bettering patient care.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Freelance Writer and Photographer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering with her local animal shelter.
- Bozini, N., & Baracat, E. C. (2007). The history of myomectomy at the Medical School of University of Sao Paulo. Clinics, 62(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1807-59322007000300002
- Uterine Fibroids: Treating fibroids non-invasively. (2015). Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE). Retrieved October 30, 2015, from http://www.uterine-fibroids.org/uae.html
- Gonsalves, C. (2008). Uterine artery embolization for treatment of symptomatic fibroids. Seminars in Interventional Radiology, 25(4): 369-377. doi: 10.1055/s-0028-1103001
- McLucas, B., Voorhees Iii, W. D., & Elliott, S. (2015). Fertility after uterine artery embolization: a review. Minimally Invasive Therapy & Allied Technologies, 2: 1-7.
- Das, R., Champaneria, R., Daniels, J. P., & Belli, A. M. (2014). Comparison of embolic agents used in uterine artery embolisation: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology, 37(5): 1179-90. doi: 10.1007/s00270-013-0790-0