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What is Embolization?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2016
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Embolization is a medical procedure which is designed to block a blood vessel, making it impossible for blood to continue flowing down that vessel. This procedure is used to treat several types of medical conditions, and there are a number of techniques which can be utilized in embolization, depending on the patient, the situation, and the preference of the doctor performing the procedure. This procedure is classically performed under the supervision of an interventional radiologist in a hospital environment, and it may be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

In embolization procedures, something is introduced to a blood vessel to occlude the blood flow. This can be a physical barrier, such as a small coil, viscous chemical, or inflatable balloon. Embolization can also be performed with the use of various drugs and medications. In order for the procedure to work, the barrier must be placed precisely so that it will effectively block the vessel, and so that it is in the correct vessel.

Visualization of the site is critical, which is why the services of an interventional radiologist are used. This medical professional uses medical imaging machines and contrast agents to create a picture of what is going on inside the body so that the catheter can be guided to the precise area which requires embolization, and when the procedure is over, medical imaging is used to confirm that it was done properly.

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This technique is sometimes used to manage growths like tumors and fibroids, by cutting off the blood supply so that the growth cannot continue to grow. It is also used to treat aneurysms, dangerous weakening of the walls of blood vessels which can rupture, causing internal bleeding. Certain types of hemorrhage may also be treated with the use of embolization to stop the flow of blood to the area.

For this minimally invasive procedure, the patient is usually sedated so that he or she does not move, disrupting the position of the catheter. The patient will usually need to wear a hospital gown for easy access, and monitors will be used to confirm that the patient's blood pressure and heart rate remain stable during the procedure. This procedure is done in a hospital so that if there is a complication, the patient has rapid access to medical care.

When this procedure is recommended, the patient may want to ask about specific directions on preparation, because different embolization procedures may require additional steps to prepare. They may also want to ask about alternatives, and the likelihood that the procedure will be successful.

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