For women with uterine fibroids, life can be difficult and uncomfortable. At Adventist Midwest Health Hospitals, a breakthrough treatment is giving patients their lives back.
Steven Smith, MD, an interventional radiologist who treats patients at all four Adventist Midwest Health hospitals, uses uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), a minimally invasive procedure that causes fibroids to shrink much as they do after menopause. This procedure is an advanced alternative to a procedure most people wish to avoid: hysterectomy.
Overcoming the pain
That was good news to Naperville resident India Ehioba. Her uterine fibroids caused heavy periods that had become painful and long lasting. Even though she was done having children, Ehioba wanted to avoid a major surgery that would mean taking six to eight weeks off work.
Her sister had a UFE treatment years ago, but when Ehioba asked her doctor about it, the doctor tried to dissuade her from having the procedure and warned her that it might not work. Yet Ehioba continued her research and ultimately was referred to Dr. Smith. Just two days after the procedure, she felt like she had gotten her life back.
“Before the UFE, I had to schedule my life around my period. It determined what I could wear and how long I could bear to be away from a bathroom,” she said. “Now, I have control over my life. My only regret is not having it sooner.”
For more than a year, Brynn Williams of Naperville experienced pain and pressure on her uterus. Frequent urination – up to 12 trips to the bathroom during her workday – disrupted her life and kept her awake at night. She stopped working out because the activity caused her to double over in pain.
A year earlier, an ultrasound at her doctor’s office revealed a 6.5 centimeter fibroid in her uterus. The pain convinced her to revisit her doctor, where she learned her fibroid had grown. “Seeing is believing,” Williams says. “The ultrasound screen showed the fibroids taking over my uterus.”
Williams feared she would need a hysterectomy to eliminate the fibroid. But her family physician referred her to Dr. Smith and she had the UFE procedure in June 2009 at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital.
“I went home the next day and was back to work the following week,” says Williams. “Life after the UFE has been remarkable. It made a difference in my life. It’s been a liberating experience.”
What are uterine fibroids?
Doctors don’t know what causes uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous growths. They range in size from small seedlings, undetectable to the human eye, to large, bulky masses that can distort the uterus – sometimes expanding it to reach the rib cage. Uterine fibroids often have symptoms such as:
- Constant pelvic pain
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Frequent urination
- Back pain
Nearly one third of all hysterectomies performed each year are to treat fibroids. “With hysterectomy, patients pay a permanent price that may not be necessary,” Dr. Smith says. “Every woman who is advised to have this surgery should get a second opinion.”
After a UFE, patients stay at the hospital overnight and need only one week of recovery, compared to six weeks for a hysterectomy. In addition to being easier on patients, there are no incisions involved in UFE, no scaring and no pain or blood loss. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology states there is scientific proof that UFE is a “safe and effective option” for women.
“UFE is an option that, unfortunately, many women don’t know about,” Ehioba says. “If I can help another woman by talking about this, then it’s worth sharing.”