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More Options to Treat Fibroids

Uterine Fibroid Embolization Offers Quick Relief and Fast Recovery From Fibroid Symptoms
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WebMD Health News

March 26, 2004 (Phoenix) -- Many middle-aged women a have bothersome fibroids -- benign tumors that can cause lower pelvic pain or pressure and abnormal uterine bleeding. Most of these women are likely to undergo hysterectomies, but a new study gives hope that a nonsurgical approach may be a better option.

Surgical removal of the fibroids, a procedure called myomectomy, usually requires at least two and half days in the hospital and "a much more significant incision," says John C. Lipman, MD, medical director of the Center for Minimally Invasive Therapy in Atlanta. He presented his findings at the annual meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology.

In the nonsurgical procedure known as uterine artery embolization, more than 81% of women reported significant improvement in symptoms, he says. Moreover, he notes that this improvement comes with "only one day in the hospital and with only a band-aid size incision."

Uterine artery embolization or uterine fibroid embolization, also called UAE, works by releasing small pellets into blood vessels that lead to the fibroids. "The pellets work like plugs or corks," says Robert Vogelzang, MD, a professor of radiology at Northwestern Medical School, in Chicago and a past president of the Society of Interventional Radiology.

Without blood, the fibroid "becomes liquefied and dies. Once this happens the symptoms usually disappear," says Lipman.

The discomfort that women with fibroids experience can be caused by fibroids pressing on the bladder or other organs in the pelvis. Symptoms can range from lower pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, or heavy menstrual bleeding.

The study compared 149 women who had UFE with 60 women who underwent myomectomy. "Both procedures improved symptoms," he says. The biggest difference was that the women who opted for UFE were back to normal activity in about two weeks, while women who had surgery needed about a month and half to recover. This was particularly interesting, he says, "because the women who chose UFE actually had more fibroids and had more menstrual problems than the women who chose surgery."

Doesn't Work for All Women

Lipman says, however, that UFE doesn't work for all women. "About 10% don't have a good outcome with UFE and for these women surgery is still an option," he says.

But many women don't know about "options" says Carla Dionne, founder of the Uterine Fibroid Foundation. Dionne tells WebMD, "I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids when I was 28." She says that surgery was the only option she was offered, but didn't want surgery because she wanted to have more children. She says her fibroids were diagnosed after the birth of her daughter but she went on to have two more children -- all the while suffering more problems caused by fibroids.

For the next 19 years she lived with symptoms that seemed to get worse every month including: backache, urinary incontinence, terrible bleeding, and anemia. "I had all those symptoms," she says.

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