Interventional radiology uses image guidance to combat pain without surgery

Life can sometimes feel like a juggling act to keep work, families and social lives all in the air. For some women, dealing with a personal health issue such as osteoporosis, reproductive pain or infertility—and a lengthy recovery time if surgery is necessary—is enough to throw everything off balance.

Thankfully, interventional radiology procedures are available that may provide relief for these types of medical conditions, with shorter recovery times.

“We’re the minimally invasive specialists, the alternative to open surgery,” explains Zahide Erkmen, M.D., an interventional radiologist at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

Interventional radiologists use image guidance such as X-rays, ultrasounds or CT scans to make the smallest incisions possible for targeted treatments. These include inserting a special tube for delivering chemotherapy, performing angioplasty to improve blood flow and inserting catheter-delivered stents to clear clogged arteries.

“It makes a big difference,” Dr. Erkmen says. “It really improves people’s quality of life.”

Less Invasive, Faster Healing

Deborah Williams of Mount Airy, Md., agrees. She underwent a uterine artery embolization (UAE) with Dr. Erkmen to relieve painful fibroids, which are noncancerous tumors that can develop in the uterus. As many as one in five women will develop fibroids before reaching menopause.

“I am a very active person, but before my procedure, I didn’t feel like leaving the house sometimes. It was wreaking havoc on my life,” Williams says. “Now, I can go running, hiking, kayaking—whatever I like, whenever I like.”

Dr. Erkmen says fibroids are the No. 1 reason women consider a hysterectomy, to alleviate heavy bleeding, cramping and other symptoms. “But instead of a six-week recovery time with a hysterectomy, it’s just one week with a UAE,” she says. “It’s a great option for women who don’t want surgery.”

Williams tried prescription medications and other alternatives before consulting with Dr. Erkmen: “She really listened and wanted to help me,” Williams says. “It felt very personal.”

Specialized Treatment Close to Home

Dr. Erkmen has been performing minimally invasive UAE for 13 years at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center, allowing women to receive this specialized treatment and relief close to home, in their own community.

She is also able to help some women who have compression fractures because of osteoporosis. “Compression factures are very debilitating, causing extreme pain,” she says. “People are usually bedridden, then go through a downward spiral.”

In these cases, Dr. Erkmen can perform vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, where she injects a special type of medical cement into the broken vertebra. This stabilizes the fracture and helps with the pain, allowing patients to get out of bed and resume a more normal life.

“It’s very gratifying when one of my patients tells me what a difference the procedure I’ve performed makes in her life,” Dr. Erkmen says.