Embolization: A Minimally Invasive Procedure to Stop Excessive Bleeding


Definition and Uses of Embolization

Embolization is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat a variety of medical conditions by purposely blocking one or more arteries or veins, typically in the liver, kidney, brain, or spine. It is most commonly used to treat excessive bleeding by blocking the blood supply to the affected area. By using embolization, doctors can effectively cut off the blood supply to parts of the body that are bleeding heavily or malfunctioning, such as a tumor or other abnormal growth. This allows the body to heal itself without having to undergo major surgery. Some common uses of embolization include:

– Controlling bleeding from injuries to the spleen, liver, or other internal organs.
– Shrinking or destroying tumors in various parts of the body like uterine fibroids or liver cancer.
– Reducing risk of re-bleeding from arteriovenous malformations in the brain.
– Eliminating symptoms from kidney cysts or other renal abnormalities.
– Treating uterine fibroids and other causes of abnormal uterine bleeding.
– Controlling pain from fractures or tumors located in bones.

How the Embolization Procedure Works

During an Embolization procedure, a thin, flexible catheter is inserted into an artery, usually in the groin area. The catheter is guided to the area that needs to be embolized using x-ray guidance. Once in place near the target organ or lesion, a medication or other material is injected through the catheter to block the blood vessel feeding it. Common embolic agents used include gelfoam, tiny plastic or metal coils, or alcohol. By depriving the diseased area of its blood supply, the abnormality shrinks and often stops functioning altogether.

As the catheter is threaded through arteries leading to the treatment area, intermittent x-rays are used to monitor its progress. Doctors can view these x-rays on monitors in the angiography suite. Once the catheter tip reaches the targeted blood vessel, contrast dye may be injected to highlight the blood supply. Then the embolic material is administered through the catheter to block vessel branches. The catheter is removed once embolization is complete. The whole procedure usually takes 1-3 hours depending on the site.

Benefits Compared to Surgery

The key advantages of embolization over conventional surgery include:

– Less invasive with no incisions required. Only a tiny hole is made in the groin for catheter insertion.
– Shorter recovery time since there are no healing surgical wounds. Patients may return home the same day.
– Reduced pain and risk of infection or other complications linked to major surgery.
– Can often treat conditions effectively that may not otherwise be surgically removable.
– Offers an alternative when surgery carries too much risk due to the patient’s age or health problems.
– Ability to embolize multiple vascular sites in one session if needed.
– Preserves normal organ function better than surgical removal in certain cases.

Occasionally embolization alone does not fully resolve an issue and later surgery may still be necessary. However, it can buy time for other treatments to work or make surgery safer by shrinking problematic areas first. Embolization has revolutionized treatment for many kinds of abnormal bleeding and lesions by serving as a minimally invasive option.

Potential Risks and Complications

As with any medical procedure, embolization carries a small risk of problems occurring. However, complications are usually minor when performed by an experienced interventional radiologist. Some potential risks can include:

– Bruising, swelling or pain at the catheter insertion site.
– Reaction to contrast dye used for imaging if the patient has an allergy.
– Infection, though very rare with proper sterile techniques.
– Organs or tissues dying off due to lack of blood supply (necrosis), especially if too much area is embolized. Doctors aim to cut blood flow to the problem area only.
– Parts of the embolic material accidentally embolizing to other vessels. Doctors work carefully to avoid this.
– Failure to fully resolve the condition if not enough area was embolized. This may require follow-up procedures.
– Persistent pain, fever, bleeding or other symptoms if embolization is incomplete. Additional treatment would then be needed.

When performed by a well-trained interventional radiologist, the benefits of embolization usually far outweigh any potential drawbacks for most patients. Careful patient selection helps minimize complication risks.

Prospects and New Advances

As catheter equipment and embolic agents continue to improve, the scope of treatable conditions using embolization widens each year. New applications under research include using drug-eluting beads that emit chemotherapy directly to tumors, allowing more targeted cancer treatment. There is also interest in expanding embolization’s role for problems like recurrent nosebleeds, pelvic congestion syndrome, and certain vascular malformations. For conditions previously requiring much larger surgeries, embolization offers hope as a gentler alternative whenever blood supply disruption can aid healing. The future remains bright for this vital minimally invasive method as doctors strengthen their armamentarium against abnormal bleeding and dysfunction in all parts of the body.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it