Women who suffer from painful uterine fibroids now have a new, minimally invasive treatment option that offers relief without surgery, same day recovery and fewer complications compared to traditional approaches — all performed through the wrist.
St. Joseph Hospital is the only hospital in Orange County, California to offer transradial uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), a novel technique in which doctors treat fibroids through an incision no bigger than a grain of rice in the patient’s left wrist. The treatment delivers microscopic particles that block the blood vessels feeding the fibroid, causing it to shrink and break down.
The treatment is a major advance over traditional UFE, which required entry through the femoral artery in the groin. “The transradial approach is a game-changer in the treatment of uterine fibroids,” said Christopher Loh, MD, board-certified interventional radiologist at St. Joseph Hospital.
“Patients experience less pain compared to the femoral approach, they are able to get up and walk around within an hour, and can return to normal physical activity, including exercise, the next day.”
Guided by high definition X-ray imaging, the doctor threads a slender tube through the wrist toward the uterine artery and releases the tiny particles, each smaller than a grain of sand. The tube is withdrawn and a bandage applied to the patient’s wrist. No general anesthesia is needed, just light sedation for patient comfort.
Like traditional UFE, the transradial approach has a success rate “upwards of 95 percent,” according to Dr. Loh. And since the radial artery is far smaller than the femoral artery (one-fourth the size), the risk of bleeding complications is also much lower. “From a risk perspective, as well as a patient comfort perspective, this technique is a huge advantage. Although both approaches involve a small incision, many women prefer the transradial approach through the wrist rather than the femoral approach through the groin.”
As many as 80 percent of American women are affected by fibroids — noncancerous growths that develop in the uterus. Women can have one fibroid or many, as small as a pea or as large as a melon. Although treatment is not always necessary, some women experience debilitating symptoms, including heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain and fertility problems. Depending on their location, fibroids can also press on the bladder, causing frequent urination.
What causes fibroids is still unclear, but risk factors include age and family history. In fact, fibroids are most common among women in their 30s and 40s, prior to menopause. Obesity and a diet high in red meat are also linked with higher occurrence of fibroids, and African-American women are at higher risk than women of other ethnicities.
For decades, hysterectomy was the only treatment option for painful fibroids. But thanks to medical advancements, women suffering from fibroid symptoms now have a wider range of options, according to Dr. Loh. “It’s a good idea to consult with an interventional radiologist when seeking treatment for fibroids,” he said. “Women should be aware of all their options.”
For more information, visit sjo.org/fibroid.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.