Embolization Procedure What to Expect and FAQ

Presented by: The Center for Vascular Medicine Patient First Awareness Program

What is an Embolization Procedure?

Embolization is a minimally-invasive procedure that stops blood flow in target areas. It is done while preserving normal blood flow in the surrounding regions to keep your tissues healthy while dealing with problematic bleeding. An embolism is the obstruction of a blood vessel, and an embolization procedure is the deliberate obstruction of a blood vessel for a medical benefit.

How Does an Embolization Procedure Work?  

Inserting a catheter into the veins places an embolic agent into the right place to stop the abnormal bleeding. By blocking the blood vessels or closing them, blood no longer flows through that area. The embolization procedure is less invasive than surgery and works directly in the target area with minimal damage to surrounding areas.

An embolization procedure is a useful medical technique for:

  • Control or prevention of abnormal bleeding.
  • Cutting off blood supply to a tumor.
  • Correcting abnormal connections between veins and arteries.
  • Dealing with aneurysms (a bulge at a weak point in a blood vessel wall).
  • Decreasing the size of tangled non-straight veins to reduce pain and swelling.

What to Expect?

What Happens During an Embolization Procedure?

Before beginning the embolization procedure, you change into a surgical gown. You are provided with mild to moderate sedation through an IV line (arm or back of the hand) and connected to monitoring equipment. In some circumstances, a general anesthetic is necessary.

The most straightforward point of insertion into a vein is in the groin area. Before inserting the catheter, the skin is cleaned and sterilized before a small cut into the skin under local anesthetic.

An imaging technique ensures that the catheter reaches the target location. Injecting a contrast material through the catheter allows a series of X-rays to give pictures of the damaged or abnormal blood vessels. At the target site, the catheter delivers the medication or embolic agent. Then more contrast allows a series of X-ray pictures to check that blood flow has stopped as planned in the target area.

After removing the catheter, pressure is applied to the incision site to stop any bleeding. A doctor may use a closure device to allow you to move around more quickly following the procedure. A surgical dressing keeps the insertion area clean, and there are no visible stitches.

Depending on how many blood vessels need treatment, the whole process takes from 30 minutes to a few hours. You can expect to remain in bed for six to eight hours after the procedure to let your body rest and recover.

What are Embolic Agents?

The embolic agents are the materials or medication creating the blockage in the blood vessel, and there are several types. Your physician selects the best agent for the type and size of the blood vessel. Another factor is the temporary or permanent need for the blocking of the blood vessels.

Types of material include:

  • Spongy materials that block arteries and dissolve over time.
  • Small polymer spheres to permanently block small blood vessels.
  • Stainless steel or platinum coils or devices for permanent blocking of large vessels.
  • Clot forming liquids.
  • Liquid glue.
  • Chemotherapy medication.

How Do You Prepare for an Embolization Procedure?

Before your physician recommends an embolization procedure, you may have an examination of your blood vessels with an imaging technique to assess if this medical process will help you. Your doctor will talk you through the process to prepare for the embolization procedure and discuss the following areas:

  • Pregnancy - X-rays are potentially harmful to unborn babies. The process can still take place but with extra protection measures for the fetus.
  • Medication - this includes herbal medicines and preparations.
  • Illness - all recent illnesses.
  • Allergies - some medical materials can cause an allergic reaction if you are sensitive to them.

Your doctor may advise you to:

  • Stop medication for a few days before the treatment.
  • Refrain from food or water from the night before the procedure.

You can expect at least one overnight stay following the embolization procedure, so pack a bag appropriately.

Follow up Visits with CVM 

Routine follow-up for surveillance is vital after your procedure to detect short and long-term complications early.  Center for Vascular Medicine recommends follow-up postoperatively at approximately 1 week, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, and then once every year further. Every other visit should involve ultrasonography unless otherwise indicated by your vascular specialist.

Benefits of an Embolization Procedure?

The embolization procedure as a treatment option is beneficial to patients because:

  • It is highly effective at stopping bleeding.
  • It's less invasive - less time in hospital and minimal bleeding.
  • It treats areas that are difficult for surgeons to reach safely.
  • Less damage to the body - one small cut for inserting a catheter.'

Read more about minimally-invasive procedures

Risks of an Embolization Procedure?

No medical intervention is risk-free, but your physician will carefully screen you for potential issues and monitor the process for any problems arising. The risk areas are:

  • Allergic reactions to the contrast fluid. The risk is slight. 
  • Damage to the blood vessels from the catheter, bruising, and infections. These are known risks, and medical staff mitigate these where possible and treat if necessary.
  • Kidney damage from the contrast fluid in patients with underlying issues - your doctor will go through your medical history to prescreen for this possibility.

Side Effects of an Embolization Procedure?

During the procedure, you may experience some discomfort but not pain because you have sedation. You can expect to feel sensations like pinching and uncomfortable sensations. You may have some bruising.

After the process, most people feel some pain, and you will get appropriate medication (by mouth or through an IV line) to alleviate these feelings. You may experience a mild headache. Most patients leave the hospital after 24 hours, but you will stay for longer if you continue to suffer pain for observation and medication.

Your doctor will advise minimal activity for a week after your procedure, but your lifestyle and work will contribute to your recovery time. Your doctor will talk through what is best for your recovery after an embolization procedure.

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