Elizabeth Torres had suffered severe menstrual bleeding and period pain for more than half of her life – and after years of trying different treatments the only option left seemed to be a hysterectomy, but she was not prepared to do that.
Now, thanks to ground-breaking new research, she has been able to undergo a less invasive non-surgical procedure that has alleviated her symptoms.
An Australian medical team led by Sydney Adventist Hospital’s interventional radiologist Dr Eisen Liang and gynaecologist Dr Bevan Brown discovered that Uterine Artery Embolisation (UAE) – a little-known method often used for shrinking non-cancerous womb tumours, or fibroids – could be effective.
“It was such a relief that there was another option,” Ms Torres said. “For years I saw different doctors and specialists, tried several different pills, was told to have a curette, then an endometrial ablation, then a hysterectomy. I wasn’t ready for that, so I lived with my problems.”
Dr Liang, who directed the study through his clinic at the San, said many women suffering from heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) and period pain do not realise they actually have adenomyosis – a condition commonly found in 40 to 70 percent of hysterectomy cases.
“Adenomyosis is a benign disease of the uterus which occurs when the tissue that normally lines the inner cavity has infiltrated the wall and causes heavy menstrual bleeding and period pain. If conservative therapy has failed, hysterectomy is often recommended,” he said.
The UAE procedure blocks the uterine arteries that feed the fibroids, thus shrinking them.
Dr Liang and Dr Brown's research followed 117 women with adenomyosis for almost two year after they had UAE, in the largest study of its type.
Each woman had been facing a hysterectomy, but chose embolisation as an alternative to having their womb removed – and ending their chances of bearing children.
UAE is performed under local anaesthetic, and requires just a one-night stay in hospital with a few days' rest at home to recover.
“The results were very encouraging,” Dr Liang said. “Ninety percent of women were happy or very happy with the outcome, with resolution of their heavy menstrual bleeding and remarkable reduction in pain.”
For Ms Torres, the procedure has meant an end to the pain and uncertainty she has had to live with since childhood.
“Unless you have been through it, it’s really hard to imagine what it’s like living with a condition that nobody can give you answers for, and then coming to the terms with the fact that you may have to just be like this for the rest of your life,” she said.