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Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), also called uterine artery embolization (UAE), is a nonsurgical procedure performed by an interventional radiologist. First performed in the U.S. in 1997, UFE is widely used around the world. Medical studies have found UFE to provide significant symptom relief in 85 to 90 percent of women.
In this procedure, a catheter — a flexible tube, thinner than a coffee straw — is inserted into an artery in the upper thigh. Using low dose X-ray images, the interventional radiologist navigates this catheter to the uterine arteries, which supply blood to fibroid tumors. Tiny particles, which are the size of small grains of sand, are injected into the bloodstream and directed to fibroids in the uterus. These particles block the blood supply to fibroid tumors, which causes them to shrink over several months as patients experience symptom relief.
UFE treats all existing fibroid tumors at one time, regardless of size or location, and without the need for subsequent visits. This technique effectively shrinks fibroid tumors, while the ovaries and the uterus remain intact. Performed under light to moderate sedation, UFE requires minimal blood loss — no more than the amount given during a routine blood test. Most patients return home in less than a day. Additionally, since there is no incision, patients experience a quick recovery time and can resume normal activities within a week.