Embolization is a procedure in which a device or material is placed through a catheter into an abnormal artery in order to block it off.

When should I have an embolization procedure?

Embolization is useful in selected medical conditions after complete evaluation of the medical problem by a team of specialists. Embolization techniques can help stop serious bleeding and prevent bleeding during surgery on highly vascular head and neck tumors. Embolization may also be used as the primary treatment of certain conditions, such as arteriovenous malformations, arteriovenous fistulae, and aneurysms.

Is it safe? Will it hurt?

Embolization, when performed for appropriate indications by radiologists with training and experience, is a safe technique. Possible complications and side effects vary depending upon the nature and location of the condition to be embolized. These will be explained to you in detail before you give permission for the procedure. The process of catheterization results in some discomfort, similar to a bruise, at the catheter entry site. In addition, there maybe discomfort in the embolized area for up to one week following the procedure. This will be controlled with medications.

How should I prepare for the procedure?

You will be given written instructions at the time the procedure is scheduled. In general, the patient must eat no solid foods nor clear liquids for six hours prior to the procedure.

What will happen during the procedure?

The initial part of the procedure will be conducted in a similar fashion to diagnostic angiography. An intravenous line is placed in the patient's hand or arm and medication is given to make the patient comfortable or to induce general anesthesia. A catheter is placed, usually through the artery at the crease of the hip, into the appropriate blood vessel, and an angiogram is performed by injecting contrast medium into the blood vessel and obtaining a series of x-ray images. After determining the precise blood vessels that need to be embolized, the radiologist advances the catheter into the exact position required and delivers the blocking agent or material into that blood vessel through the catheter. Contrast injection is repeated to confirm that embolization has had the desired effect, and then the catheter is removed. The patient is transferred to the Recovery Room/Short Stay Unit and asked to lie with the affected leg still for 4 to 6 hours. The patient is monitored frequently during the recovery period.

How does this technique work? What does the radiologist see?

The angiogram performed prior to embolization shows the radiologist which blood vessels are abnormal and need to be blocked. Once the appropriate device or material has been placed into the blood vessel, the abnormal blood flow to tissues is stopped and diminished. In the case of a temporary condition, such as bleeding, the radiologist may use a material that only temporarily stops the blood flow, so the blood vessels can reopen and resume normal blood flow at a later time. In conditions where the embolization is being used as a primary treatment for a condition, other materials and devices are available to produce permanent blockage of the abnormal blood vessels. Because some of these conditions have the ability to induce the formation of new blood vessels, embolization may have to be performed in stages or more than one session.

How will I learn the results?

The neurointerventionalist who performs the procedure will discuss the immediate findings and results with you after the procedure is completed.

What if I have other questions?

To obtain additional information before or after embolization, contact 617.638.6595 or 617.414.4632 (Radiology Nursing Office).