Uterine artery embolisation

What is uterine artery embolisation for fibroids?

Uterine artery embolisation (UAE), or uterine fibroid embolisation (UFE), is a way of treating fibroids, which are non-cancerous tumours of the womb.

If you have fibroids that are causing you discomfort, they may need to be treated. Your surgeon may have recommended embolisation as a way of stopping blood flowing to a tumour, reducing its size. With uterine artery embolisation, particles are injected into the arteries that supply blood to the womb. This stops blood flowing to fibroids growing inside or around the womb.

What are the benefits of uterine artery embolisation? 

  • Pain relief – studies show that 78 to 94 per cent of women experience significant or total relief of pain and other symptoms.
  • Less scarring and fast recovery time – the procedure is less invasive than myomectomy and hysterectomy, where fibroids or the womb are surgically removed.
  • The womb is preserved and normal hormone cycles are maintained.

What's involved in the procedure? 

The procedure is performed under local anaesthetic and normally takes 30 to 60 minutes. You may be offered a sedative to help you relax.

A tiny tube (catheter) is inserted through a small cut in your groin into your femoral artery (an artery in the upper thigh that helps supply blood to the neck of the femur). The catheter is steered using X-ray to the womb and the point where the artery divides into multiple vessels supplying blood to the fibroids.

Tiny plastic particles or gelatin sponge particles the size of grains of sand are injected into the blood vessels. These flow towards the fibroids and block the blood supply. As embolisation can be painful, you will be given a morphine pump through which you can control the amount of painkiller you receive following the procedure.

For more information, and if you have any queries about the procedure, speak to your consultant.

Continue taking your normal medication unless your surgeon tells you otherwise.

Are there any alternatives to uterine artery embolisation? 

Other treatment methods include medication and surgery. Your surgeon will discuss the most suitable treatment option with you.

The following lifestyle changes can help make the procedure a success:

  • Giving up smoking
  • Eating healthily. If overweight, you have a greater chance of developing complications
  • Exercising regularly. Your GP can recommend exercises

Possible complications

  • Bleeding after surgery
  • Pain similar to period pains for several weeks following the procedure, which is usually treatable with simple painkillers 
  • Vaginal discharge (this is the broken-down fibroid tissue expelled from the womb), which may last some weeks after the procedure 
  • Skipped or heavier periods, which should then return to normal
  • Flu-like symptoms including a minor temperature, but this should only last a week at the most and is helped by taking painkillers
  • Infection, which is usually easily treated with antibiotics
  • Risks to the embryo in future pregnancies – it is not advisable to become pregnant within 12 months of the procedure.

This is not a definitive list and symptoms will vary with each patient. Please ask your consultant for more information.

What's the recovery like? 

Most people stay in hospital for two nights following the operation. Recovery time varies enormously, but it is a good idea to book at least two weeks off work. Some people go back to work within a week; others feel tired and have period-like pain for several weeks after the procedure.

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