Embolization is a nonsurgical procedure for obstructing small blood vessels and blocking the flow of blood. It is used to treat certain types of vascular malformations, which are abnormal clusters of blood vessels that occur during fetal development. 

A doctor called an interventional radiologist places a tiny plastic tube called a catheter through a large blood vessel, usually in the leg. The doctor then positions the tip of the catheter into an abnormal artery or vein and injects small foam-like particles, coils or other substances. This closes the blood vessel and prevents the flow of blood into the malformation. 

X-rays are taken during the procedure so the doctor can clearly see which blood vessels need embolization. When the procedure is completed, the catheter is removed and pressure is applied to the catheter site to prevent bleeding. Embolization usually takes three to four hours.  Your child will receive general anesthesia and will not experience pain during the procedure. 

You will be able to stay with your child until just before the procedure is performed and will be escorted to the surgical waiting area for the duration of the procedure.

Embolization is used to manage complex lesions (abnormal body tissues), such as arteriovenous malformations, vascular tumors and combined vascular malformations. It is often used as part of an overall treatment strategy that combines a variety of approaches.

Patients may also need embolization prior to surgery to prevent bleeding. When lesions are extensive and surgery is not possible, embolization may improve the overall quality of life by controlling the lesion and lessening the symptoms. 

Arteriovenous and combined vascular malformations may require a series of two to three treatments to block all of the abnormal vessels. Treatments usually are spaced several months apart. Long-term follow-up and evaluation are required to determine if re-treatment is necessary.

Your child's procedure will be scheduled by an interventional radiology nurse or technologist. Before the day of the procedure, your child may be seen by the interventional radiologist at which time you will meet the radiologist, nurse practitioner and RN who will care for your child.

The radiologist will discuss the procedure with you and answer any questions you may have. The nurse will give you instructions for the day of the procedure.

As your child begins to wake up from the anesthesia, he/she will be taken to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) where he/she will be closely monitored. You may stay with your child in the PACU. Your child will be admitted to the hospital after the procedure for six to 23 hours.

Your child must lie very still and cannot bend his or her leg for four to six hours after the procedure. The radiologist will speak to you about the results after the procedure is complete. 

Your child may experience mild discomfort or pain at the catheter site. He or she may also have a fever of 100° F or less for the first few days. This is normal. You may give acetaminophen (Tylenol) for discomfort or fever, following the instructions on the label. If needed, the doctor or nurse practitioner will give you a prescription for pain medication. There may be pain and swelling at the site that is embolized. This may require medications such as steroids to cut down on the inflammation.

To prevent bleeding at the catheter site, it is important that you do not give aspirin, ibuprofen or any medications that contain aspirin – unless prescribed by a member of the interventional radiology team. These drugs may make your child more susceptible to bleeding. 

Your child will not have any restrictions on bathing or routine activities; however, heavy lifting, stair climbing and contact sports should be avoided for several days.

Embolization is a safe and effective procedure that has been shown to be invaluable in treating arteriovenous and combined vascular malformations. Most patients do not have problems or serious side effects; however, bleeding or bruising can occur at the catheter site. Clotting of an artery or damage to normal tissue can also occur.  

Call the hospital operator (513-636-4200) and ask for the hemangioma and vascular malformations provider on call if you have any questions or concerns, or if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Bleeding from the catheter site. If this happens, have your child lie flat and apply direct, steady pressure to the site.
  • Swelling, redness or severe pain at the catheter site
  • Color changes in the leg or foot
  • Numbness or loss of feeling in the leg
  • A fever higher than 101° F rectally or orally, or higher than 100° F under the arm

Last Updated 12/2013