An Innovative Treatment for Uterine Fibroids: Minimally Invasive Procedures at St. Luke’s

An Innovative Treatment for Uterine Fibroids: Minimally Invasive Procedures at St. Luke’s

Published in The Woman Today magazine, June/July 2016 issue

An Innovative Treatment for Uterine Fibroids: Minimally Invasive Procedures at St. Luke’s

Monthly periods for women are generally a mere inconvenience. But for some women, they can be a significant disruption in their everyday lives.

Britt Johnson of Duluth never had any issues until after giving birth to her three children. After trying several different types of birth control, and noticing no changes, Britt’s doctor referred her to St. Luke's Obstetrics & Gynecology Associates. “I was so frustrated that nothing seemed to be working,” said Britt. Upon hearing Britt’s symptoms and previous treatment attempts, her gynecologist diagnosed her with uterine fibroids. Due to her reluctance to have a hysterectomy, she was referred to Dr. Naveen Gowda, a St. Luke’s interventional radiologist, to alleviate them using a minimally invasive treatment—uterine fibroid embolization.

Uterine fibroids are pelvic growths that are attached to the inside or outside of the uterus, or the uterine walls. The growths are typically benign, but can cause discomfort if left untreated. Dr. Gowda explained, “Uterine fibroids are common, and many women go through the struggle of finding an effective treatment.” It is estimated that up to 75 percent of women have uterine fibroids at some time in their life. Despite being a common health issue, generally women are not aware of uterine fibroids.

Talking about women’s reproductive health is not always easy. “This is such a sensitive topic, but Dr. Gowda was so forthcoming. He helped me feel more comfortable,” Britt explained. “I asked a lot of questions since I am a biology instructor at Lake Superior College, and I wanted to share some information with my class. Dr. Gowda answered everything without hesitation.”

The choice for Britt to try treatment using an interventional radiology procedure was easy. “My alternative was a hysterectomy. I didn’t want that, so I was very excited about the possibility presented by Dr. Gowda,” said Britt. “He was quiet and compassionate, and he explained the procedure to me extremely clearly.” During the uterine fibroid embolization procedure, Dr. Gowda used state-of-the-art imaging technology to inject embolic agents into the artery supplying the uterine fibroid, blocking its blood supply. Without blood, the fibroid shrinks and dies.

Uterine fibroid embolization is far less invasive than traditional surgery and has a high success rate of about 90 percent. Dr. Gowda stated, “If more women were aware of this procedure, I think they would choose it as a treatment option.” In the rare cases that this procedure is not successful, surgery can always be performed as a last resort. Britt’s procedure, performed in St. Luke’s hybrid operating room, is one of numerous success stories of uterine fibroid embolization.

“St. Luke’s hybrid operating room is one of the best in the nation,” said Dr. Gowda. “We used to only have 2D imaging, now we have 3D imaging and can do a larger variety of minimally invasive procedures with less radiation.” Britt only needed a small incision and the procedure was quick, lasting about one hour. She was discharged from St. Luke’s on the same day as her procedure. “Patients only need to stay hospitalized for three to six hours after this procedure,” explained Dr. Gowda. “They might experience some nausea or cramping, but we manage their post-operation pain effectively so there is not much discomfort at all.”

Even though Britt’s stay at St. Luke’s was short, the exceptional care she received continued after her discharge. “Dr. Gowda called me both before and after the surgery to check in and see how things were going,” said Britt. “He was helpful and involved throughout the entire process, even my recovery at home.” Because the procedure does not require traditional surgical incisions, the recovery time, like the hospital stay, is short. “I had the procedure done on a Friday and was back to work by Monday morning,” Britt said. In comparison, it can take up to six weeks to heal from a traditional hysterectomy surgery with a two- to three-day hospital stay.

Britt no longer experiences symptoms of uterine fibroids and her frustrating search for an effective treatment is over. “Having this procedure work after so many years of struggling was amazing,” said Britt. “I had a great experience at St. Luke’s and having a positive outcome made it even better.”

For other women experiencing uterine fibroids, Britt suggests, “Explore all of your different options, including uterine fibroid embolization. It’s not a well-known option in Duluth, but it is so great, it surprises me that more women don’t know about it.”

BELOW: Dr. Naveen Gowda, St. Luke's interventional radiologist, talks with his patient Britt Johnson

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