What is a hysterectomy?
Hysterectomy is surgery to remove the uterus. It is a very common type of surgery for women in the United States. Removing your uterus means that you can no longer become pregnant.
Why is hysterectomy done?
Hysterectomy is used to treat some of the following conditions:
- Uterine fibroids (this is the most common reason for hysterectomy)
- Pelvic support problems (such as uterine prolapse)
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Gynecologic cancer
In some cases, medications or other procedures that allow you to become pregnant now or in the near future can be tried before having a hysterectomy. Some women wait to have a hysterectomy until after they have completed their families. If you choose another option besides hysterectomy, keep in mind that you may need additional treatment later.
What structures are removed during a hysterectomy?
There are different types of hysterectomy:
- Total hysterectomy—The entire uterus, including the cervix, is removed.
- Supracervical (also called subtotal or partial) hysterectomy—The upper part of the uterus is removed, but the cervix is left in place. This type of hysterectomy can only be performed laparoscopically or abdominally.
- Radical hysterectomy—This is a total hysterectomy that also includes removal of structures around the uterus. It may be recommended if cancer is diagnosed or suspected.
One or both of your ovaries and fallopian tubes may be removed if they are abnormal (for example, they are affected by endometriosis). This procedure is called salpingo-oophorectomy if both tubes and ovaries are removed; salpingectomy if just the fallopian tubes are removed; and oophorectomy if just the ovaries are removed. Your surgeon may not know whether the ovaries and fallopian tubes will be removed until the time of surgery. Women at risk of ovarian cancer or breast cancer can choose to have both ovaries removed even if these organs are healthy in order to reduce their risk of cancer. This is called an elective salpingo-oophorectomy.
What will happen if my ovaries are removed before I have gone through menopause?
You will experience immediate menopause signs and symptoms. You also may be at increased risk of osteoporosis. Hormone therapy can be given to relieve signs and symptoms of menopause and may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Hormone therapy can be started immediately after surgery. Other medications can be given to prevent osteoporosis if you are at high risk.
What are the different ways hysterectomy can be performed?
A hysterectomy can be done in different ways. The choice will depend on why you are having the surgery and other factors. Sometimes, the decision is made after the surgery begins and the surgeon is able to see whether other problems are present.
In a vaginal hysterectomy, the uterus is removed through the vagina. There is no abdominal incision. Not all women are able to have a vaginal hysterectomy. For example, women who have adhesions from previous surgery or who have a very large uterus may not be able to have this type of surgery.
What are the benefits and risks of vaginal hysterectomy?
Vaginal hysterectomy generally causes fewer complications than abdominal or laparoscopic hysterectomy. Healing time may be shorter than with abdominal surgery, with a faster return to normal activities. It is recommended as the first choice for hysterectomy when possible.
How is an abdominal hysterectomy done?
In an abdominal hysterectomy, the uterus is removed through an incision in your lower abdomen. The opening in your abdomen gives the surgeon a clear view of your pelvic organs.
What are the benefits and risks of abdominal hysterectomy?
Abdominal hysterectomy can be performed even if adhesions are present or if the uterus is very large. However, abdominal hysterectomy is associated with greater risk of complications, such as wound infection, bleeding, blood clots, and nerve and tissue damage, than vaginal or laparoscopic hysterectomy. It generally requires a longer hospital stay and a longer recovery time than vaginal or laparoscopic hysterectomy.
How is laparoscopic hysterectomy done?
Laparoscopic surgery requires only a few small (about one-half inch long) incisions in your abdomen. A laparoscope inserted through one of these incisions allows the surgeon to see the pelvic organs. Other surgical instruments are used to perform the surgery through separate small incisions. Your uterus can be removed through a larger incision made in your abdomen, or through your vagina (which is called a laparoscopic vaginal hysterectomy).
How is a robotic-assisted hysterctomy done?
A robot-assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy is performed with the help of a robotic machine controlled by the surgeon.
What are the benefits and risks of laparoscopic or robotic hysterectomy?
Compared with abdominal hysterectomy, laparoscopic surgery results in less pain, has a lower risk of infection, and requires a shorter hospital stay. You may be able to return to your normal activities sooner. There also are risks with laparoscopic surgery. It can take longer to perform compared with abdominal or vaginal surgery, especially if it is performed with a robot. Also, there is an increased risk of injury to the urinary tract and other organs with this type of surgery.
Is hysterectomy safe?
Hysterectomy is one of the safest surgical procedures. As with any surgery, however, problems can occur:
- Fever and infection
- Heavy bleeding during or after surgery
- Injury to the urinary tract or nearby organs
- Blood clots in the leg that can travel to the lungs
- Breathing or heart problems related to anesthesia
No, some women are at greater risk of complications than others. For example, if you have an underlying medical condition, you may be at greater risk of problems related to anesthesia.
Will I have to stay in the hospital after having a hysterectomy?
You may need to stay in the hospital for up to a few days after surgery. The length of your hospital stay will depend on the type of hysterectomy you had and how it was done. You will be urged to walk around as soon as possible after your surgery. Walking will help prevent blood clots in your legs. You also may receive medicine or other care to help prevent blood clots.
What should I expect after having a hysterectomy?
You can expect to have some pain for the first few days after the surgery. You will be given medication to relieve pain. You will have bleeding and discharge from your vagina for several weeks. Sanitary pads can be used after the surgery. Constipation is common after most hysterectomies. Some women have temporary problems with emptying the bladder after a hysterectomy. Other effects may be emotional. It is not uncommon to have an emotional response to hysterectomy. You may feel depressed that you are no longer able to bear children, or you may be relieved that your former symptoms are gone.
What are some important things I should know about recovery?
Follow your health care provider’s instructions. Be sure to get plenty of rest, but you also need to move around as often as you can. Take short walks and gradually increase the distance you walk every day. You should not lift heavy objects until your doctor says you can. Do not put anything in your vagina during the first 6 weeks. That includes douching, having sex, and using tampons.
After you recover, you should continue to see your health care provider for routine gynecologic exams and general health care. Depending on the reason for your hysterectomy, you still may need pelvic exams and cervical cancer screening.