Uterine fibroids, or leiomyomas or myomas, are noncancerous growths in or on the uterus. They often appear during a woman’s childbearing years and can lead to pelvic pain and heavy menstrual bleeding, but they’re not associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer, nor do they usually develop into any other form of cancer.
Fibroids range in size from the microscopic to bulky masses that enlarge and distort the uterus, and you can have a single one or many at a time. It’s not unusual for women to develop fibroids at some point during their lives, but if they’re small, they may not produce symptoms, and your doctor may discover them only incidentally during a pelvic exam or a prenatal ultrasound.
At Heart Vascular & Leg Center, our team of vascular specialists understands that uterine fibroids, especially large ones or clusters, can lead to uncomfortable symptoms. That’s why we offer embolization as a treatment option. Here’s what you can expect during and after the procedure.
What causes uterine fibroids?
Doctors aren’t sure of the exact cause of uterine fibroids, but research suggests these factors play a role:
- Genetic changes: fibroid cells contain different genetic information from normal uterine muscle cells
- Hormones: estrogen and progesterone, which stimulate the uterine lining, also promote fibroid growth
- Growth factors: substances that maintain body tissues may trigger fibroid growth
- Extracellular matrix (ECM): the material that allows cells to stick together is increased in fibroids, storing growth factors and causing biological changes in cells
Medical research also suggests fibroids develop from a stem cell in the uterus’ smooth muscle tissue. It repeatedly divides, creating a firm, rubbery mass different from the surrounding tissue. The tissue itself may grow slowly or quickly or not change at all. And many fibroids that develop during pregnancy shrink or disappear after birth as hormone levels decrease and the uterus returns to its normal size.
Uterine fibroids usually aren't dangerous by themselves, but they can cause pain and other uncomfortable symptoms and, in some cases, can lead to complications such as heavy vaginal bleeding and a related drop in red blood cells (anemia).
Uterine fibroid embolization
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive technique that cuts off the blood supply to fibroid tumors, making them shrink.
During UFE, we insert a catheter through a blood vessel in your leg or wrist and guide it with X-ray imaging to the blood vessels that feed the uterine fibroids. Then, we inject tiny particles through the tube that block blood flow to the fibroids.
Once the supply is blocked, the fibroids shrink gradually over the next few weeks and months until they disappear. It’s similar to how fibroids shrink after menopause as hormone levels decrease.
What to expect after UFE
It generally takes 7-10 days to recover from embolization. In the first few days, you may experience significant pelvic pain, pressure, fevers, chills, and decreased energy levels. We prescribe strong painkillers and anti-nausea medication to help ease the effects. While most women go home directly after the procedure, some patients need to stay overnight in the hospital so we can control their pain with intravenous medication.
Your first menstrual cycle after the procedure will probably be heavier than usual and come with more discomfort, and breakthrough bleeding between cycles is common in the first few weeks.
It usually takes three months for you to experience the benefits of UFE, and the fibroids continue to shrink for 6-9 months or longer.
UFE is highly effective, with an approximate success rate of 85%. Most women who undergo the procedure see a dramatic improvement in their symptoms and a corresponding decrease in the size of their fibroids. If you’ve experienced heavy menstruation, you can expect a more normal flow after UFE.
Struggling with fibroids and want to know if embolization is right for you? Contact the providers at Heart Vascular & Leg Center to schedule a consultation. Give our office a call at 661-443-5524, or book online today.