Infertility and Women’s Health Conditions: The Physician Who May be Able to Help
Many women struggle with infertility or with other life-altering conditions of the pelvis, such as uterine fibroids. Oftentimes, they don’t feel heard by their doctors, or they’re told they have very few options for treatment. Dealing with these issues can be heartbreaking, and many women begin to feel there is little hope for a successful pregnancy or for relief from their debilitating symptoms. But there is hope.
There are many treatments available to women that can help address potential issues causing infertility and other difficult conditions – all without the pain and inconvenience of invasive surgery. The path to treatment may not be simple, but an interventional radiologist – or IR – can help.
What is an Interventional Radiologist?
IRs are board-certified physicians who use imaging guidance to perform minimally invasive, targeted procedures and treatments with a quicker recovery. IRs can be found in hospitals and clinics across the United States. They help treat many of today’s toughest medical problems, including women’s health conditions, such as uterine fibroids and some conditions that can cause infertility.
In some cases, female infertility can be caused by fallopian tube obstruction (FTO), a blockage of the fallopian tube(s). These are the passages that the eggs travel through to get from the ovaries to the uterus. An IR treatment called fallopian tube recanalization (FTR) may be an option for those with this condition and can also be an alternative to in vitro fertilization (IVF). In fact, FTR has a 41% pregnancy rate, compared to only 24% for IVF. FTR is performed by an IR using real time X-ray images. Similar to an exam in your gynecologist’s office, a speculum is first placed in the vagina. Through the speculum, the IR passes a small, flexible tube (known as a catheter) through the cervix, and into the uterus. Contrast is injected to determine if there is a blockage of the fallopian tubes.
If this is the case, the IR will then attempt to open the fallopian tube. Once the procedure is completed, the IR will remove the catheter and speculum. The treatment is very effective and carries few side effects or risks. As a result, many in the medical community believe it should be offered to patients who may have blocked fallopian tubes, particularly when they wish to pursue natural methods of conception prior to IVF. If you’re struggling with infertility, ask your doctor to explore all options for diagnosis and treatment. If you are diagnosed with FTO, an interventional radiologist may be able to help.
Many may be surprised to learn that most women, including nearly 80% of African-American women, will develop uterine fibroids by the age of 50. A fibroid is a type of benign tumor that occurs in the uterus, which can cause pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, and abdominal enlargement. These symptoms go beyond mere discomfort and can result in a sense of hopelessness and a perception that their uterine fibroids are controlling their lives. This condition can be treated and the symptoms can be managed in various ways, though many women believe that the only treatment available to them is hysterectomy, which is the complete removal of the uterus. Some women might feel comfortable with that option, but others, especially those who want to preserve their uterus, may decide to live with their symptoms because they are unaware that a minimally invasive treatment—uterine fibroid embolization, or UFE—exists.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization UFE is a non-surgical treatment performed by an IR. Through a tiny incision in the skin, a catheter is guided via imaging to the vessels leading to the fibroids. Through this catheter, small particles are injected to block the blood flow leading to the fibroids, causing them to shrink and disappear. UFE produces less pain and has a shorter recovery period than the alternative surgical treatments. Yet, many women are unaware of this option.
Every woman’s symptoms are different, as are the factors in her life that will be impacted by the treatment she chooses. Ensuring that women have the complete information they need to make the right decision about treatment is vital to providing the best care possible. This includes educating women about treatments beyond hysterectomy or other surgical options.
For more information on uterine fibroids and UFE, view the Society of Interventional Radiology’s recent report The Fibroid Fix.