Uterine fibroid symptoms, diagnosis and treatment interventional radiologists use MRIs to determine if fibroids can be embolised, detect alternate causes for the symptoms and rule out misdiagnosis, identify which treatments are best suited for each patient and avoid ineffective treatments. Women typically undergo an ultrasound at their gynaecologist's office as part of the evaluation process to determine the presence of uterine fibroids. An MRI is a much better imaging tool for uterine fibroids than ultrasound because it can show underlying diseases and image all of the fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are very common non-cancerous (benign) growths that develop in the muscular wall of the uterus. They can range in size from very tiny (a quarter of an inch) to larger than a cantaloupe. Occasionally, they can cause the uterus to grow to the size of a five-month pregnancy. In most cases, there is more than one fibroid in the uterus. While fibroids do not always cause symptoms, their size and location can lead to problems for some women, including pain and heavy bleeding.
Fibroids can dramatically increase in size during pregnancy. This is thought to occur because of the increase in oestrogen levels during pregnancy. After pregnancy, the fibroids usually shrink back to their pre-pregnancy size. They typically improve after menopause when the level of oestrogen, the female hormone that circulates in the blood, decreases dramatically. However, menopausal women who are taking supplemental oestrogen (hormone replacement therapy) may not experience relief of symptoms.
Uterine fibroids are the most common tumours of the femal genital tract. You might hear them referred to as ‘fibroids; or by several other names including leiolyoma, leiomyomata, myoma and fibromyoma. Fibrous tumours of the uterus are very common, but for most women, they either do not cause symptoms or cause only minor symptoms.
These develop under the outside covering of the uterus and expand outward through the wall, giving the uterus a knobby appearance. They typically do not affect a woman's menstrual flow, but can cause pelvic pain, back pain and generalised pressure. The subserosal fibroid can develop a stalk or stem-like base, making it difficult to distinguish from an ovarian mass. These are called pedunculated. The correct diagnosis can be made with either an ultrasound or magnetic resonance (MR) exam.
These develop within the lining of the uterus and expand inward, increasing the size of the uterus, and making it feel larger than normal in a gynecologic internal exam. These are the most common fibroids. Intramural fibroids can result in heavier menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain, back pain or the generalized pressure that many women experience.
These are just under the lining of the uterus. These are the least common fibroids, but they tend to cause the most problems. Even a very small submucosal fibroid can cause heavy bleeding - gushing, very heavy and prolonged periods.
20-40% of women age 35 and older have uterine fibroids of a significant size. Uterine fibroids are the most frequent indication for hysterectomy in premenopausal women and therefore, are a major public health issue.
Most fibroids don’t cause symptoms and not all women who have fibroids require treatment. Depending on size, location and number of fibroids, they may cause:
Women typically undergo an ultrasound as part of the evaluation process to determine the presence of uterine fibroids. It is a rudimentary imaging tool for fibroids that often does not show other underlying diseases or all the existing fibroids. For this reason, MRI is the standard imaging tool used by interventional radiologists.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) improves the patient selection for who should receive non-surgical uterine fibroid embolisation (UFE) to kill their tumours. Interventional radiologists can use MRIs to determine if a tumour can be embolised, detect alternate causes for the symptoms, identify pathology that could prevent women from having UFE and avoid ineffective treatments. Using an MRI rather than ultrasound is like listening to a digital CD rather than a record – the quality is better in every way. By working with a patient’s gynaecologist, interventional radiologists can use MRIs to enhance the level of patient care through better diagnosis, better education, better treatment options and better outcomes.
For true informed consent before surgery, patients should be aware of all of their treatment options. Patients considering surgical treatment should also get a second opinion from an interventional radiologist, who is most qualified to interpret the MRI and determine if they are candidates for the interventional procedure. You can ask for a referral from your doctor, call the radiology department of any hospital and ask for interventional radiology or visit the doctor finder link at the top of this page to locate a doctor near you.
Nonsurgical Uterine Fibroid Embolisation – A Major Advance in Women’s Health Uterine fibroid embolisation (UFE), also known as uterine artery embolisation, is performed by an interventional radiologist, a physician who is trained to perform this and other types of embolisation and minimally invasive procedures. It is performed while the patient is conscious, but sedated and feeling no pain. It does not require general anaesthesia.
The interventional radiologist makes a tiny nick in the skin in the groin and inserts a catheter into the femoral artery. Using real-time imaging, the physician guides the catheter through the artery and then releases tiny particles, the size of grains of sand, into the uterine arteries that supply blood to the fibroid tumour. This blocks the blood flow to the fibroid tumour and causes it to shrink and die.
Fibroid embolisation usually requires a hospital stay of one night. Pain-killing medications and drugs that control swelling typically are prescribed following the procedure to treat cramping and pain. Many women resume light activities in a few days and the majority of women are able to return to normal activities within seven to 10 days.
There have been numerous reports of pregnancies following uterine fibroid embolisation, however prospective studies are needed to determine the effects of UFE on the ability of a woman to have children. One study comparing the fertility of women who had UFE with those who had myomectomy showed similar numbers of successful pregnancies. However, this study has not yet been confirmed by other investigators.
Less than two percent of patients have entered menopause as a result of UFE. This is more likely to occur if the woman is in her mid-forties or older and is already nearing menopause.
UFE is a very safe method and, like other minimally invasive procedures, has significant advantages over conventional open surgery. However, there are some associated risks, as there are with any medical procedure. A small number of patients have experienced infection, which usually can be controlled by antibiotics. There also is a less than one percent chance of injury to the uterus, potentially leading to a hysterectomy. These complication rates are lower than those of hysterectomy and myomectomy.