Uterine artery embolization (UAE) is a procedure used to stop vaginal bleeding. The bleeding could be caused by uterine fibroids, trauma, cancerous tumors, childbirth and other conditions. UAE is minimally invasive and works by blocking the blood supply to your uterus.
Uterine artery embolization (UAE) is a minimally invasive procedure most commonly used to treat vaginal bleeding caused by uterine fibroids (noncancerous tumors inside your uterus). In addition to fibroids, UAE can also treat heavy bleeding in emergency situations due to trauma, malignant (cancerous) gynecological tumors or postpartum hemorrhage.
The terms uterine artery embolization and uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) are often used interchangeably. However, they’re different. UFE is a particular kind of UAE that treats uterine fibroids. UAE treats uterine fibroids as well as several other conditions that may cause vaginal bleeding.
The most common reason people need uterine artery embolization is to treat uterine fibroid tumors that are causing symptoms such as:
Your healthcare provider may recommend UAE for other conditions like excessive bleeding after childbirth, trauma or cancerous tumors.
Uterine artery embolization (UAE) shouldn’t be performed if you:
In UAE, tiny particles (like grains of sand) are injected into the blood vessels leading to your uterus. These particles are guided into your uterine arteries through a thin, flexible tube (called a catheter) using fluoroscopy, a form of X-ray that captures moving images. When uterine blood vessels are blocked by these particles:
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Your healthcare provider will recommend UAE after a thorough medical history and evaluation. They’ll perform diagnostic tests to determine the source of your symptoms.
Some of the things that may happen before the procedure include:
Uterine artery embolization (UAE) is typically an outpatient procedure that doesn’t require a hospital stay. The entire procedure usually takes about 90 minutes.
UAE is usually performed this way:
Most people can leave the hospital within a few hours after a uterine artery embolization (UAE). Some other things to expect afterward include:
You will be very relaxed and sleepy during the procedure and shouldn’t feel pain. Once you return home and the sedative medication wears off, you may feel some discomfort. Your healthcare provider may prescribe pain medications or recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers during your recovery.
Nearly 90% of people treated with UAE for fibroids experience partial or full relief of symptoms. Other advantages of UAE include:
Most procedures carry some risks. For uterine artery embolization (UAE), the risks include:
Yes, uterine artery embolization is a safe procedure in most cases. Your healthcare provider will discuss the risks of UAE with you based on your medical history.
There’s still some question about whether uterine artery embolization (UAE) affects a future pregnancy. Some providers prefer to have fibroids surgically removed if a person wishes to have more children. Pregnancies after UAE can have higher rates of miscarriage, and are more likely to have a cesarean section and postpartum hemorrhage. If you’re pregnant or wish to become pregnant, speak with your provider about the risks of UAE.
You can expect pelvic pain, cramps and discomfort for up to two weeks, with the most severe pain occurring within the first 24 hours. Some people pass fibroid tissue out of their vaginas during this time. Up to 90% of people return to normal activities within 10 days of uterine artery embolization (UAE). It may take up to three months to see a noticeable change in symptoms.
The outlook is good. Studies show that up to 92% of people who’ve had uterine artery embolization (UAE) have no symptoms of uncontrolled vaginal bleeding 12 months later.
If you have a uterine artery embolization (UAE) to treat fibroids, there’s a chance the fibroids will come back. Studies show that 32% of people had symptoms of uterine fibroids after five years. A second round of UAE may be needed to treat your symptoms if your fibroids return.
There have been cases of healthy pregnancies after UAE, but the data is limited. Because the effects of UAE on fertility aren’t fully known, UAE is recommended for people who don’t wish to become pregnant. Be sure to discuss the risks of UAE with your provider to fully understand how it may impact your fertility.
You can expect moderate to severe pelvic cramping for 24 hours to several days after uterine artery embolization (UAE). Fatigue, mild nausea and low-grade fever are also possible.
Most people return to their normal activities within 10 days. Contact your healthcare provider if you’re still feeling pain and discomfort two weeks after the procedure.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Uterine artery embolization (UAE) is a minimally invasive procedure to treat fibroids, severe bleeding after childbirth and other gynecological tumors. UAE isn’t for everyone — so talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of the procedure. If you’re pregnant or wish to become pregnant, UAE might not be right for you. Most people who undergo UAE find relief from their symptoms within a few months. Severe complications from UAE are rare but can happen. Be sure to discuss your concerns with your provider so you feel comfortable with this procedure.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/24/2022.
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