Finding Relief
Women who endure the heavy bleeding, pain and discomfort associated with uterine fibroids turn to the Vein & Vascular Centers of Philadelphia for an improved quality of life
by Bill Donahue

Fact: Fibroid tumors of the uterus are the most common tumor in American women of childbearing age and are found in up to 80 percent of women who have their uteruses removed. Even so, one of these noncancerous growths can be smaller than a sesame seed and have no effect on a woman’s quality of life. Fortunately, most women with fibroid tumors are not symptomatic. In fact, most women only learn that they have uterine fibroids by way of a pelvic examination or a prenatal ultrasound.  

Not all women are quite as fortunate. Uterine fibroids can become so large and obtrusive that they swell and even distort the uterus. Fibroid symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding and prolonged periods; excessive bloating; intense pelvic pressure or pain (including pain during intercourse); frequent urination or difficulty emptying one’s bladder; constipation; backache, leg pain or other forms of discomfort; and, in some cases, infertility. Although symptomatic uterine fibroids are most common in African-American women, 25 percent of all American women with fibroids can develop symptoms.

“Overall, it can be a pretty miserable and socially embarrassing condition,” says Richard Gray, M.D., FSIR, medical director of the Vein & Vascular Centers of Philadelphia at American Access Care, which offers treatment for uterine fibroids and other life-altering conditions. “People tend to wait a long time before deciding what to do about it because their options have been primarily surgical, and those operations may be painful with a prolonged recovery period of six to eight weeks; that’s where UFE comes in.”

UFE is short for uterine fibroid embolization, also known as uterine artery embolization, a minimally invasive treatment that essentially cuts off the flow of blood to fibroids in the uterus. With UFE, a physician such as Dr. Gray can safely and effectively shrink a patient’s fibroids and eliminate the unpleasant symptoms they cause, all without the need for invasive surgery or even an overnight stay in the hospital. At the Vein and Vascular Centers of Philadelphia, UFEs are performed on an outpatient basis and offer a faster recovery time than a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) or a myomectomy (surgical removal of individual fibroids only), both of which are much more invasive surgical procedures that come with a higher risk of complications. Following UFE women can return to work within two weeks, and often earlier.  

In a typical uterine fibroid embolization procedure on a medically appropriate candidate, physicians deliver small particles to the uterine artery leading to the fibroid. These particles block the arteries that provide blood flow and shrink fibroid tumors over time. UFE reduces the size of fibroids by an average of 50 percent, according to data from the Society of Reproductive Surgeons (SRS). Although the procedure does not “cure” fibroids, SRS suggests that approximately 80 out of 100 women who opt for UFE as a method of treating uterine fibroids report that their symptoms are improved.

“In fact, [UFE] originated as a pre-surgical procedure to make fibroid surgery safer,” says Dr. Gray, who has performed thousands of embolizations in his career. “In other words, it was originally performed as a preparation for the surgery, but it ended up replacing the surgical procedure as an option for appropriately selected women.”

At the Vein & Vascular Centers of Philadelphia, a UFE procedure typically takes less than an hour, according to Dr. Gray. Patients will remain at the comfortable facility for only a short time, to ensure that no complications result. They are then discharged so they can return home, with appropriate medication to address any post-procedure symptoms.

Effective Fibroid Treatment
UFE can be life changing for women such as Tennille Hill, a mental health therapist who lives in Philadelphia. Uterine fibroids caused Hill to suffer from excessive bleeding during her menstrual cycle, as well as what she describes as “extreme pain.” “I still lived my life with fibroids,” she says, “but I didn’t want to put up with the pain anymore.”

Hill’s doctor recommended UFE and referred her to Dr. Gray’s practice. She underwent the procedure in January. She doesn’t remember much about the procedure—nothing in fact—because she essentially slept through it and didn’t experience any significant pain afterward. She resumed her normal activities within a week of the procedure. Follow-up tests have revealed that the fibroids have shrunk to approximately half of their previous size, she says. Although she is not completely pain free, she noticed a decrease in the pain after recovery.

“Some of the happiest people I have seen are people who have had this condition going on for a long time,” says Dr. Gray. “Two to three weeks after the procedure, and especially three months after the procedure, [UFE] basically gives them their lives back because it eliminates excessive menstrual bleeding and pain, relieves pelvic pressure, alleviates pressure on the nerves, eliminates the need to run to the bathroom, and improves back pain and leg pain. And this is something that a lot of women put off for so long.”

Effective Vein Treatments

In addition to UFE, the Vein & Vascular Centers of Philadelphia also offers relief to men and women who suffer from the leg pain, swelling, itchiness, fatigue and other symptoms related to chronic venous insufficiency. This condition, which affects as many as 75 percent of women and more than 40 percent of men, occurs when the valves in leg veins do not open and close properly, thereby preventing proper blood flow. The condition can result in varicose veins (swollen veins that bulge from the surface of the skin, which are both unsightly and potentially harmful), as well as spider veins (threadlike veins stemming from the same underlying causes as varicose veins, though purely cosmetic in nature).

“We have some new techniques for ablating veins that don’t require sedation where you can easily go right back to work after the procedure,” Dr. Gray says. “Varicose veins, like uterine fibroids, are a problem for working-age people. In fact, varicose veins are the most common cause of leg pain in working-age people, and they are more common in women than in men.

“Both conditions [uterine fibroids and venous insufficiency] cause a lot of lost workdays in the U.S., and treatment for both conditions typically results in a higher quality of life,” he continues. “Most people can’t imagine that they lived with their conditions for so long and wish they had their pain and discomfort alleviated sooner.”

The Vein & Vascular Centers of Philadelphia at American Access Care
7959 Bustleton Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19152
866-996-9729 |

Photograph by Alison Dunlap