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Condoleezza Rice to Have Uterine Fibroid Surgery

Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice will undergo a relatively new procedure today to relieve uterine fibroid symptoms, according to published reports.

Uterine fibroids are the most common, noncancerous tumors in women of childbearing age, according to the National Institutes of Health. Uterine fibroids affect about 25 percent of all women in the U.S., and more than 200,000 women have hysterectomies every year due to uterine fibroids.

Common symptoms of uterine fibroids include heavy periods, bleeding between periods, and pelvic pain. Some fibroids can affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant.

Treatment is based on the severity of symptoms and whether a woman wishes to have children in the future. Treatment for uterine fibroids is not necessary if the woman is having no symptoms. For mild symptoms, such as mild irregular bleeding, treatment can include birth control pills to help shrink the uterine fibroids and make periods more regular. For more severe symptoms, such as severe, irregular bleeding and pelvic pain, surgery may be necessary. Surgery can include removal of the uterine fibroid itself (called a myomectomy), removal of the entire uterus (hysterectomy), or embolization of the fibroid.

What Is Uterine Fibroid Embolization?

Uterine fibroid embolization is a relatively new method for treating fibroids. It is done to cut off the blood supply to the fibroid. This slows their growth and eventually causes them to shrink. The procedure takes from one to three hours, and the woman is awake but sedated.

During uterine fibroid embolization a small cut is made in the crease at the top of the leg to access the femoral artery. A small catheter is inserted into the artery. The arteries that supply the blood to the uterine fibroid are injected with small particles, which block blood supply to the fibroid.

The surgeon continues to add the particles until the blood supply to the uterine fibroid is cut off completely or nearly completely. Other uterine tissue remains unharmed by uterine fibroid embolization because it is supplied by other arteries.

Pelvic pain is common for six to 12 hours following this procedure. Pain medication is given to control this pain if needed. The woman can return to usual activities in seven to 10 days.

Uterine fibroid symptoms improve in about 85 percent of women following uterine artery embolization. However, uterine fibroids may eventually return.

There is little risk with uterine fibroid embolization. However, possible problems include infection, premature menopause, and formation of scar tissue that may cause pain. Because the effects on fertility are unknown, it is not recommended for women who wish to have children.

By Michael W. Smith, MD, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: National Institutes of Health. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise.