Treating Uterine Fibroids Without Hysterectomy

When Jacqueline Calhoun's monthly period started showing up more than once a month, initially she was more annoyed than concerned.

But when her period started coming every week and was accompanied by worsening cramps, the energetic registered nurse became frustrated and fatigued. Previously diagnosed with uterine fibroids – noncancerous tumors that grow on or within the muscle tissue of the uterus – Jacqueline didn't equate her annoying symptoms to the fibroids.

"My gynecologist told me, 'If they don't bother you, we don't bother them,'" she said. For a while that strategy worked. Then she had a couple accidents resulting from the unexpected appearance of her period.

"I talked to one of my colleagues, and she told me about uterine fibroid embolization (UFE)," Jacqueline said.

Jacqueline made an appointment with an Ingalls interventional radiologist, who specializes in minimally invasive UFE.

"He ordered an MRI and found innumerable fibrotic structures in my uterus," she recalls. "The size of a normal uterus is about the size of your fist; mine was double that size."

Treating a Common Problem Without Surgery

Uterine fibroids affect up to 40 percent of women 35 years and older and are twice as common among African-American women.

Fibroids can be as small as a walnut or as large as a cantaloupe – or even larger. Symptoms include heavy, prolonged periods, pelvic pain and an abnormally enlarged abdomen.

"Fibroids are hormonally sensitive, so symptoms are usually cyclical, like menstruation," explains Richard Lichtenberg, M.D., board-certified interventional radiologist on staff at Ingalls who performs UFEs. "UFE blocks the arteries that supply blood to the fibroids, andis successful more than 90 percent of the time."

The procedure, which takes 60 to 90 minutes, is performed with local anesthesia. A small catheter is placed into the femoral artery. The catheter is steered into the larger of the uterine arteries and small particles (the size of a grain of sand) are mixed with X-ray dye and injected until the blood supply to the fibroids is blocked.

Eventually, the fibroid tumor shrivels up and is reabsorbed into the body. Benefits include a more rapid recovery and return to normal activities, virtually no blood loss and potential preservation of fertility.

"I would definitely recommend UFE," Jacqueline added. "It regulated my periods so there were no more accidents – and no more severe cramping."

If you'd like more information on uterine fibroid embolization, watch a webinar at: www.Ingalls.org/UFE.

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