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Hysterectomy

Reasons to Have One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

5 Reasons Why You Would Need a Hysterectomy

1. Cancer

There are several types of cancer—including uterine, ovarian, cervical, or endometrial cancer—that could cause the need for a hysterectomy, which is a procedure that requires the removal of a woman’s womb (or uterus). It is usually pursued if the cancer has advanced beyond the stage where chemotherapy or radiation might be effective treatments.[1]

2. Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are growths that occur on the walls of the uterus. While these growths are not cancerous, they can create severe problems for the patient, such as pain, cramps, and heavy bleeding. If other treatments are unable to remove the fibroids, a hysterectomy may be necessary.

3. Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a painful condition that causes heavy bleeding during and between a woman’s period.[1] This bleeding occurs because the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus. Many doctors will try to use other treatments to minimize the symptoms of endometriosis, but some people who have been in pain for years prefer a hysterectomy because they know it will end the problem permanently.  

4. Uterine prolapse

Uterine prolapse occurs when the uterus slips down into the vagina.[2] It often occurs later in life and can be caused by having multiple vaginal births, but it can also occur as a result of menopause or obesity.

5. Chronic pain or bleeding

When a woman experiences chronic vaginal pain and/or bleeding with no known cause and is not responding to any other treatments, a hysterectomy might be the best option. However, in these cases, a hysterectomy is only used as a last resort after all other treatments have been exhausted.[2]

Understanding a Hysterectomy

There are three types of hysterectomies: a partial, which removes only the uterus; a standard, which removes the uterus and the cervix; and a total, which removes the uterus, the cervix, the fallopian tubes, and the ovaries.

The procedure generally takes about one or two hours and occurs under general anesthesia, meaning you will not be awake during the surgery.[3] In the procedure, the surgeon makes an incision into either your abdomen or your vagina, and the uterus is removed. The type of incision, the place it is made, and the way the surgery is performed will depend on the reason for the hysterectomy.

You will need to stay in the hospital for a few days in order to recover after your hysterectomy. Also, you will need to wear sanitary pads during this time because you will probably experience some bleeding and discharge.[3] The doctors will monitor you for issues like pain, provide you with medication, and make sure you walk around after your surgery so they can determine that the procedure was successful.

Risks of a Hysterectomy

1. Blood loss and clots

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It is possible to experience major blood loss or blood clots when having a hysterectomy.[4] However, this is a common risk with other surgeries and it should not be considered a reason to avoid the surgery when it is necessary for your overall health. Your doctors will be focused on preventing blood loss or clotting and will deal with these issues immediately if they occur.

2. Infection

Like all surgeries, infection is a possible risk of a hysterectomy.[4] Again, your doctors and nurses are trained to watch for any signs of infection. Getting out of the hospital faster is a good way to avoid infection, so it is best to follow the advice of your medical team in order to be released as soon as possible.

3. Anesthesia

The surgery requires general anesthesia, meaning you will need to be asleep for it. Anesthesia has certain risks, which are always present during any surgery requiring general anesthesia. Although there are potential complications, the benefits of surgery often outweigh the risks.

What to Expect after a Hysterectomy

1. Recovery

You can expect some pain as well as vaginal discharge at the beginning of the recovery process. In most cases, women who have had abdominal hysterectomies are able to return to normal activities in six weeks, while those who have had vaginal hysterectomies can return sooner (after three or four weeks).[4] It is also common to have a scar after a major surgery like a hysterectomy.

2. Menopause

A total hysterectomy will lead to the symptoms of menopause, which can include insomnia, vaginal dryness, and hot flashes.[4] For those women who have not had a total hysterectomy, they probably won’t experience menopausal symptoms immediately, but they might begin earlier in life.

3. No more period or pregnancy

A hysterectomy means that you will no longer have your period or be able to get pregnant. This can cause emotional effects in patients who have had the procedure, often because of the hormonal changes associated with the surgery itself.[4] It can also be a relief to not have the issue of periods or possible pregnancies looming on the horizon. Every patient is different and experiences different reactions to this change.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Hysterectomy

  • What type of hysterectomy is going to be most effective for my condition?
  • Am I a good candidate for a hysterectomy?
  • Are there any risks involved if we were to avoid removing my cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, or all three?
  • Are there other, nonsurgical options for treating my condition?
  • How long should I expect to be in recovery?
  • Should I keep up any well-woman visits, including Pap smears, after the surgery?

Hysterectomy May Also be Known as:

  • Partial hysterectomy
  • Standard hysterectomy
  • Total hysterectomy

References

4 Sources

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