Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a proven, non-surgical alternative to hysterectomy and myomectomy for the treatment of fibroids. The UFE procedure, also known as uterine artery embolization, is clinically proven to reduce the major symptoms of fibroids, including pelvic pain and pressure, excessive and prolonged bleeding, and frequent urination. It is often performed as an outpatient procedure and the procedure itself lasts about an hour. Compared to a larger surgical incision, UFE is performed through a small incision in the upper thigh or the wrist to provide access to the arteries feeding the fibroids.

UFE is performed by an Interventional Radiologist (IR), a doctor who uses X-rays and other imaging techniques to see inside the body and treat conditions without surgery.

What Are Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that grow on or within the muscle tissue of the uterus.

Types of Fibroids

There are different types of fibroids and the size can range from very small as a coin to as large as the size of a watermelon. These growths can develop within the wall of the uterus, inside the main cavity of the organ or even on the outer surface. or even larger. It is common for a woman to have multiple fibroid tumors and it may be difficult to understand which fibroid is causing your symptoms.

Uterine Fibroid Symptoms

Uterine fibroids can cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • Heavy bleeding or pain during your monthly periods
  • Pelvic pain and pressure and pain at the back of the legs
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Constipation or bloating
  • A swollen or enlarged belly
Catheter insertion

The Procedure

During UFE, a patient is given a mild sedative to make her feel relaxed, but is conscious. The IR doctor inserts a catheter (thin tube) into the arteries, then uses X-ray imaging to guide the tube to the uterine artery.

Microspheres being used to treat a fibroid.

Tiny round particles called Microspheres are delivered through the catheter into the blood vessels that lead to the fibroids. The microspheres block the blood flow, causing the fibroids to shrink. A UFE procedure takes about one hour to complete, provides symptom control comparable to surgery, and has a significantly shorter recovery time—as little as one week.

Proven Clinical History

UFE was first performed in 1994 and has an extensive clinical history. Hundreds of thousands of women worldwide have been treated with the procedure. Embosphere® Microspheres were FDA cleared for UFE in 2002 and are the most extensively studied spherical embolic product worldwide. Clinical studies show that UFE provides substantial improvement in major symptoms, including pelvic pain and discomfort, heavy menstrual bleeding, and urinary problems. Three-year data from the Fibroid Registry for Outcomes Data (FIBROID) indicated that UFE offers sustained improvement in quality of life and symptom relief—90 percent of the women participating avoided a hysterectomy avoided a hysterectomy, of which 85 percent had substantial improvements in symptoms and quality of life.

Many women are unaware of less invasive fibroid treatment options, such as UFE, and continue to accept hysterectomy as the treatment of choice. Hysterectomy involves surgical removal of the uterus, and many times the ovaries, and can have a profound impact on a woman’s life.

Deciding on UFE

UFE may be a good option for women who need treatment for fibroid symptoms, but want to avoid surgery. Patients who are ideal for UFE include those who:

  • Have symptomatic fibroids
  • Want to keep their uterus
  • Do not want surgery
  • Do not intend to get pregnant in the future

UFE and Fertility

It is currently advised that women who want to maintain fertility should not have UFE. However, uncomplicated pregnancies and normal deliveries have been reported after UFE. A 2005 study of 555 women between the ages of 27 and 42 showed that the majority of women actively trying to become pregnant were able to achieve pregnancy after UFE. Most resulted in term deliveries and newborns of typical size. Additional studies are currently underway. Given no conclusive data or scientific results that establish the safety of uterine fibroid embolization on fertility and pregnancy, and before choosing this fibroid treatment, it is very important that you understand the potential inability to conceive in the future. Next step is to discuss with your physician how best to treat your uterine fibroids.

Risks Associated with UFE

UFE is a proven, safe procedure for treating symptomatic fibroids with minimal risk. Infrequent complications have been reported following UFE. Complications associated with UFE include short-term allergic reaction/rash, fibroid passage, recurrent/prolonged pain and groin hematoma.

If you have been diagnosed with uterine fibroids...

...your doctor should discuss fibroid treatment options with you. If your fibroids do not cause symptoms, your doctor can best manage your care and can continue to monitor your fibroids for growth. Many patients, however, may require additional fibroid treatment to manage more severe symptoms. When you see one of our Vascular & Interventional radiology doctors, they will discuss with you the pros and cons of minimally invasive, uterus-sparing therapies such as uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), as well as surgical interventions such as hysterectomy and myomectomy. Our doctors are board-certified, fellowship-trained, interventional radiologists with special training in both radiology and minimally invasive image-guided procedures. We offer a comprehensive care working closely with our OB-Gyne colleagues making sure every patient completes a thorough evaluation to arrive at the most minimally invasive treatment option that is best suited for the them.

Interventional Radiologists.

Interventional Radiology

Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is a procedure related to the discipline of Interventional Radiology, and there are many other services that our excellent Interventional Radiologists at Froedtert Health perform.

Our Doctors

Michael Ginsburg, M.D.
Michael Ginsburg, M.D. Interventional Radiologist
David Curry, M.D.
David Curry, M.D. Interventional Radiologist