After several months of weighing her options, Beata Rivard chose to undergo a less invasive procedure to address her growing uterine fibroids.
Rivard, 42, qualified for uterine fibroid embolization, which is an alternative to undergoing a hysterectomy.
Jarrod MacFarlane, DO, an interventional radiologist with Spectrum Health, said the procedure is for women with symptomatic uterine fibroids. This means that they may experience significant menstrual bleeding in their 30s to 40s that can result in anemia.
During her first pregnancy in 2010, doctors discovered Rivard’s first uterine fibroid. Rivard said there were initial concerns about its size and whether or not it would prevent her daughter from passing through the birth canal.
At the time, the Rockford, Michigan, resident had no symptoms.
During her second pregnancy, doctors found a fibroid again.
Following the birth of her second daughter, Rivard experienced heavier menstrual cycles, and they started becoming problematic.
“It was getting really uncomfortable,” she said.
In 2015, an ultrasound confirmed Rivard’s suspicion that her symptoms were related to fibroids.
To address Rivard’s growing problem, she faced one of two options: a hysterectomy or uterine fibroid embolization.
Rivard, a clinical pharmacist at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, said she thinks her background in the medical field played a factor in how she carefully weighed her options.
She didn’t feel ready for a hysterectomy for several reasons—she has two young children, her family lives an active life, finding the right time for the procedure and recovery would prove difficult, and it seemed like a final step.
“I felt like ‘let’s try something a little less invasive at first,’” Rivard said.
What is the procedure?
Uterine fibroid embolization is a minimally invasive procedure, and the goal is to decrease blood flow to the benign tumors, Dr. MacFarlane said.
Physicians use X-rays to guide them as they enter the patient’s body through an artery in the groin. With small catheters, they block off blood flow to the fibroid.
Benign tumors grow because of the body’s estrogen, Dr. MacFarlane said.
The tumors naturally go away around the time a woman experiences menopause, but physicians are able to help decrease and shrink fibroids in the meantime.
The nearly two-hour procedure is completed in the X-ray room suite. It includes an overnight stay in the hospital and the patient leaves the next day with a small bandage over the spot.
Within six months of the procedure, Dr. MacFarlane said more than 90 percent of patients have “significantly improved bleeding symptoms.”
Patients can expect mild pelvic pain and nausea, but those side effects are usually resolved within the first week after the procedure. By then, patients can resume normal activity.
In the past, women would undergo a hysterectomy, but that’s invasive and leaves no chance of future pregnancies. That procedure also lands the patient in the hospital for three to four days for recovery, Dr. MacFarlane said.
In June, Rivard underwent the procedure.
Pain wasn’t nearly as bad as Rivard expected, and the hospital staff kept on top of monitoring her pain levels. Rivard was soon up and on a trip to the zoo with one of her daughters.
In the first few months post-surgery, Rivard said she didn’t see much change.
Now that she’s a few months out of surgery, Rivard said she’s starting to see menstrual cycles that aren’t as heavy and don’t last as long.
Looking back at her experience, Rivard said she would recommend the procedure to other women, but she encourages them to not wait as long as she did since her tumor grew larger as she debated what to do.
Rivard said she’s grateful to have had the option.
“I think it’s worth a shot,” she said.