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Vascular

Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are the most common tumors of the female reproductive system. Fibroids – also called uterine myomas, leiomyomas, or fibromas – are benign growths that develop from smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue either just beneath the outer surface of the uterus, or within the uterine wall. While estrogen and progesterone are involved in fibroid growth, the mechanism by which they develop is not fully understood.

Fibroids may be as small as a pea and as large as a grapefruit. As many as 50 percent of women develop uterine fibroids at some point in their lives. Because fibroids may not produce symptoms, however, many women are unaware that they have them. Women in the 30s and 40s have the highest risk of developing fibroids. African-American, Hispanic, and Asian women also seem to be at an increased risk, for reasons that are not understood.

At NewYork-Presbyterian, vascular specialists employ a procedure called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) in some women. UFE cuts off the blood flow to the fibroid and spares the patient from hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus). To make an appointment to consult with a doctor about the UFE procedure, please call (646) 962-9179 (for NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center) or (212) 326-8874 (for NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center).

Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids

Some women with fibroids have mild or no symptoms, while in others, symptoms are severe and disruptive. Common symptoms include:

  • Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods
  • Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Pelvic pain (caused as the fibroid presses on pelvic organs)
  • Frequent urination
  • Low back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • An enlarged abdomen, which causes a constant feeling of fullness or pressure

Some women experience iron-deficiency anemia from heavy or prolonged menstrual periods, or abnormal bleeding between periods.

Treatment for Uterine Fibroids

Many women with fibroids are told they need a hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus). In fact, about a third to a half of the 600,000 hysterectomies performed each year in the United States are for fibroids. For many patients, though, a less invasive uterine-sparing alternative called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is an option. UFE is a specialty of vascular specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

During UFE, a medical specialist called an interventional radiologist cuts off the blood supply to fibroids, so that they gradually shrink.

  • Doctors begin the procedure by inserting a tiny tube called a catheter into an artery at the top of the leg.
  • They guide the catheter into the uterine artery, map the arteries feeding the fibroids using an arteriogram (an x-ray in which a dye is injected into the arteries), and then inject microspheres (the size of grains of sand) through the catheter and into the fibroids to block their blood supply.
  • The fibroids begin to shrink, and many women experience rapid relief of their symptoms.
  • The procedure takes about an hour, and the recovery time is significantly less than that associated with traditional surgery.

With UFE, the uterus and ovaries are spared (unlike hysterectomy). Studies show that most women who undergo UFE experience significant or complete resolution of their symptoms over time, and their fibroids rarely return.

To make an appointment to consult with a doctor about the UFE procedure, please call (646) 962-9179 (for NewYork-Presbyterian /Weill Cornell Medical Center) or (212) 326-8874 (for NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center).

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