What Is an Embolization? Melania Trump’s Procedure to Treat Kidney Condition

First lady Melania Trump has undergone an embolization procedure, according to a White House press release. The statement says the procedure went well and that she is recovering at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where she'll remain hospitalized for the week.

The purpose of an embolization is to cut off blood flow to an area, such as a tumor or abnormal growth, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. It can also be used to block an embolism or an abnormal cluster of blood vessels. The statement specifies only that the first lady had a benign kidney condition.

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First lady Melania Trump underwent an embolization for "a benign kidney condition." KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

“We were sitting around the clinic between patients, trying to figure out what the hell they were doing it for,” Dr. Pascale Lane, professor and section chief of pediatric nephrology, or the study of kidneys, at the University of Oklahoma, told Newsweek. However, based on the fact that the surgery didn't appear to be an emergency, Lane's best guess is that Trump had a benign kidney tumor.

If the tumor was malignant, or cancerous, the surgeons would want to remove it entirely, Lane explained. Even benign tumors can be bad, though, as they can “cause obstructions and infections and other problems,” Lane added.

Usually, the procedure is minor enough that general anesthesia is not needed. In some cases, doctors inject local anesthesia into the treatment site. Surgeons use a digital map of the area that they want to treat and puncture a blood vessel nearby from the outside. They send a tube through the labyrinthine vessels, then another tube through that one to reach the smaller blood vessels. Through that tube, they send material, like gelatin sponges or platinum coils, to sit in the blood vessel. Blood can no longer travel through that vessel, as it hits the material, and the body part that the blood was feeding will no longer receive blood.

This technique is relatively simple. It can prevent someone from bleeding out after an injury or stop blood from feeding a tumor or other abnormal area. This can cure some conditions or be part of a more extensive treatment, where surgeons intend to shrink a tumor or growth prior to removal.