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Melania Trump just underwent a kidney embolization — here's what that means

First lady Melania Trump had surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, according to her communications director, Stephanie Grisham.

“This morning, First Lady Melania Trump underwent an embolization procedure to treat a benign kidney condition. The procedure was successful and there were no complications,” the statement read. “Mrs. Trump is at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and will likely remain there for the duration of the week. The First Lady looks forward to a full recovery so she can continue her work on behalf of children everywhere.”

So what exactly is an embolization procedure, and does this mean her life was in danger? Here’s what you need to know.

Embolization is a common medical procedure, used to treat multiple conditions

Embolization is a minimally invasive surgery used to treat everything from gastrointestinal bleeding to uterine fibroids. The goal of embolization is to stop abnormal blood flow to one specific area of the body. To do this, doctors insert a catheter into a blood vessel and then pump an embolic agent into the area to stop the abnormal bleeding.

Embolic agents are essentially a means to stop bleeding

Embolic agents aren’t as complicated as they sound. Whether artificial or naturally occurring, they’re simply the weapon that’s used to target the area that needs to be blocked. One example of a liquid embolic agent is ethanol, which works by hardening the lining of the vessels. Another option is coils, made of stainless steel, which can help instantly block blood vessels in a trauma situation.

Embolization can be used to treat kidney cysts

One of the common ways that embolization is used is to treat kidney cysts — something that Trump may have been experiencing. Kidney cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are noncancerous and show up on the outside of the kidney. If the cysts grow large enough they can cause symptoms such as upper abdominal pain, aching in the lower back, and fever.

Kidney cysts can cause complications — but often don’t

In most cases cysts, which become more common as people age, are non-life-threatening. But the fluid-filled sacs can eventually lead to complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, complications include infection, a burst cyst, or obstruction of urine. It’s this last scenario that could prove dangerous. The job of the kidneys is to filter blood to remove waste. If this function is interrupted or blocked, it could be extremely dangerous.

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While it’s impossible to diagnose the first lady from afar, given the positive prognosis it’s likely that her procedure was a simple one, aimed at ensuring that her health remains stable.

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