Uterine artery embolization
Uterine artery embolization (UAE) is a procedure where an interventional radiologist uses a catheter to deliver small particles that block the blood supply to the uterine body. The procedure is done for the treatment of uterine fibroids and adenomyosis. Given that this minimally invasive procedure is commonly used in the treatment of uterine fibroids it is also called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE).
Procedure and indications
Uterine Artery embolization (UFE) is indicated for relief of bothersome bulk-related symptoms and abnormal uterine bleeding due to fibroids or for the treatment of adenomyosis. Fibroid size, number, and location are three potential predictors of successful UFE 
The procedure is performed by a Vascular Interventional Radiologist under local anesthesia. After anesthetizing the skin over the groin, the femoral artery is accessed by a needle puncture. An access sheath and guidewire are then introduced into the femoral artery. In order to select the uterine vessels for subsequent embolization, a Roberts guiding catheter is commonly used and placed into the uterine artery under x-ray guidance via the femoral artery puncture site. Once at the level of the uterine artery an angiogram is performed to confirm placement of the catheter and Microparticles (spheres or beads) are released, which will preferentially block blood flow to the vascular uterine fibroids. This is done bilaterally from the initial puncture site as unilateral uterine artery embolizations have a high risk of failure. With both uterine arteries occluded, abundant collateral circulation prevents the uterus from necrosing and the fibroids decrease in size and vascularity as they receive the bulk of the embolization material. The procedure is can be performed in a hospital, surgical center or office setting and commonly take no longer than an hour to perform. Post-procedurally if access was gained via a femoral artery puncture an occlusion device can be used to hasten healing of the puncture site and the patient is asked to remain with the leg extended for several hours but many patients are discharged the same day with some remaining in the hospital for a single day admission for mild pain control and observation. The procedure is not a surgical intervention, and allows the uterus to be kept in place avoiding many of the associated surgical complications.
UAE is frequently used to relieve symptoms caused by uterine fibroids. It has satisfaction rates similar to hysterectomy and much shorter recovery times and is coming into favor in many centers as the standard for amenable fibroid treatments. There are some considerations, although the uterus remains in place there is a risk of affect to the patients fertility in some cases and other interventions may provide better results when fertility should be preserved. although the UFEs are commonly performed on younger individuals as more data points to the utility of uterine fibroid embolization in treating fibroid related infertility. UAE is thought to work because uterine fibroids have abnormal vasculature together with aberrant responses to hypoxia.
The rate of serious adverse effects is comparable to that of myomectomy or hysterectomy. The advantage of substantially faster recovery time is offset by a higher rate of minor complications.
Adverse effects that have been reported include death from embolism, or septicemia (the presence of pus-forming or other pathogenic organisms, or their toxins, in the blood or tissues) resulting in multiple organ failure. Infection from tissue death of fibroids, leading to endometritis (infection of the uterus) resulting in lengthy hospitalization for administration of intravenous antibiotics. Misembolization from microspheres or polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) particles flowing or drifting into organs or tissues where they were not intended to be, causing damage to other organs or other parts of the body. Ovarian damage resulting from embolic material migrating to the ovaries. Loss of ovarian function, infertility, and loss of orgasm. Failure of embolization surgery- continued fibroid growth, regrowth within four months. Menopause - iatrogenic, abnormal, cessation of menstruation and follicle stimulating hormones elevated to menopausal levels. Post-Embolization Syndrome (PES) - characterized by acute and/or chronic pain, temperatures of up to 102 degrees, malaise, nausea, vomiting and severe night sweats. Foul vaginal odor coming from infected, necrotic tissue which remains inside the uterus. Hysterectomy due to infection, pain or failure of embolization. Severe, persistent pain, resulting in the need for morphine or synthetic narcotics. Hematoma, blood clot at the incision site. Vaginal discharge containing pus and blood, bleeding from incision site, bleeding from vagina, fibroid expulsion (fibroids pushing out through the vagina), unsuccessful fibroid expulsion (fibroids trapped in the cervix causing infection and requiring surgical removal), life threatening allergic reaction to the contrast material, and uterine adhesions.
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- Informational resource to help understand uterine fibroids and minimally invasive treatment options, Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)
- Fibroid Embolization: Information, Support, Advice
- Fibroid Embolization patient experiences, complications, advice and articles
- Uterine Fibroid Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment