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Fibroid Embolization: An Alternative to Hysterectomy?

Fibroids are non-cancerous, but can cause excessive pain and heaviness in the pelvis, frequent urination and heavy bleeding during periods. Many women have been told that a hysterectomy is their only permanent treatment option, which usually takes about six weeks for a full recovery. But a minimally-invasive procedure can offer women a quicker recovery.

Forty-one-year-old Venita Gowdy doesn’t want to miss a second of her kids’ lives.

“Not only do I have a swimmer, but a basketball player and a football player,” Gowdy said.

But a fibroid problem caused Gowdy to have pain and heavy bleeding during menstrual cycles that would sometimes cause embarrassing leaks.

“Going to the bathroom every 30 minutes and missing things. My son is six years old, so I thought I was done carrying diaper bags, but I was actually carrying one for myself,” Gowdy said.

Gowdy’s problem is not uncommon. Over 50 percent of women in the U.S. will develop a uterine fibroid by the time they are 50 years old. Even though not all fibroids cause symptoms, the ones that do "can cause quite a bit of disruption to a woman’s life,” said Dr. A.J. Gunn, Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Gunn thought Gowdy would be a perfect candidate for a fibroid embolization.

“She came in. We were able to treat her through just a small pinhole in her wrist,” explained Gunn.

Then using x-ray guidance, Gunn was able to find the blood vessels that were feeding the fibroid and block them with tiny particles. Without blood supply, the fibroids starved and died off.

“We’re about 85 to 90 percent successful in controlling the symptoms within the first year. And if you look out to about five to ten years we’re about 75 percent successful in keeping them from ever having to get a hysterectomy,” said Gunn.

Two weeks later Gowdy’s symptoms were completely gone. That means her kids’ number one fan is back 100 percent.

“Not worrying about anything and just sit there and enjoy them," said Gowdy.

Gunn says that fibroid embolization is currently being vastly underutilized and less than 50 percent of women are being counseled about the treatment option, even though many more women would qualify for the treatment.

Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Robert Walko, Editor.

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