Women who are unable to conceive because of uterine fibroids may have an easier time getting pregnant after minimally invasive procedures to destroy the fibroids, a recent study suggests.
For the study, researchers followed 359 women for an average of almost six years after they had what is known as uterine fibroid embolization, a procedure in which doctors destroy fibroids by blocking the arteries supplying them with blood. By the end of the study, 149 of the women, or 42 percent, had become pregnant one or more times, and 131 women had a total of 150 live births.
“Uterine embolization procedure is a controversial matter because it is still seen as a risk to fertility,” said lead study author Joao Martins Pisco, a researcher at New University of Lisbon.
“With this study we were able to verify that women who could not conceive due to uterine fibroids, once subjected to embolization, could have a normal pregnancy with a live newborn,” Martins Pisco said by email.
Uterine fibroids — abnormal masses of fiber and muscle tissue in the wall of the uterus — are one of the most common causes of infertility and pregnancy complications, the study team writes in the journal Radiology. Previous research has found that 1 of every 4 women with fibroids has problems related to fertility.
The standard treatment is myomectomy, a surgery that involves cutting through the skin on the lower abdomen to reach the uterus and removing fibroids from the uterine wall. This procedure isn’t always effective, and it can lead to complications that require a hysterectomy, which is the surgical removal of all or part of the uterus.
While embolization is less invasive and can be done in women who have already had a myomectomy, some doctors have avoided this option out of a concern that it may restrict blood flow to the lining of the uterus and ovaries, making it harder for women to have babies, researchers note.
In the new study, about 32 percent of the women had had at least one previous pregnancy, and 20 percent had had a live birth at least once.
Overall, 79 percent of the women had an improvement in fibroid-related symptoms, the study found. About 15 percent had complications with partial embolization, in which only small vessels to the fibroids are blocked, and roughly 23 percent had problems with full embolization, in which all uterine artery branches are blocked.
In 28 cases, women needed repeat embolization procedures because the fibroids weren’t fully treated.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove that embolization is better than other fibroid treatments. Another limitation is that all of the embolization procedures were done at a single site in Portugal, making it possible that results would be different at other hospitals or surgical centers, the authors note.
Even so, the results suggest that women may want to consider embolization for fibroids when they’re struggling to conceive, especially if they want to avoid the risk of hysterectomy, Martins Pisco said.
Fibroids won’t always get in the way of conception, however, and women should be sure to rule out other causes of infertility if they are considering surgery only to improve their chances of having a baby, said Mikulas Redecha, a researcher at the University Hospital Bratislava in Slovakia, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Women should also avoid putting off pregnancy, Redecha added by email.
“With increasing age, the chances for spontaneous conception decrease and the chance of developing a fibroid increases,” Redecha said. “If you have a fibroid, that does not automatically mean that getting pregnant spontaneously is impossible.”