What is a hysterectomy?
A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the uterus. There a several types of hysterectomy, depending on what’s removed:
- A partial hysterectomy removes the uterus but leaves the cervix intact.
- A standard hysterectomy removes both uterus and cervix.
- A total hysterectomy removes the uterus, cervix, and one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Hysterectomies are performed through either the abdomen or the vagina. Some can be done laparoscopically or with robot-assisted technology. The approach your doctor uses can play a role in the side effects you might experience after surgery.
Read on to learn more about hysterectomy side effects.
Having a hysterectomy can cause several short-term physical side effects. Some may also experience emotional side effects during the recovery process.
Physical side effects
Following a hysterectomy, you may need to stay in the hospital for a day or two. During your stay, you’ll likely be given medication to help with any pain as your body heals. A laparoscopic hysterectomy sometimes doesn’t require a hospital stay.
As you recover, you’ll likely notice some bloody vaginal discharge in the days or weeks after the procedure. This is completely normal. You may find that wearing a pad during this part of recovery helps.
The actual amount of time you’ll need to recover depends on the type of surgery you have and how active you are. Most people can return to their usual activity level about six weeks after an abdominal hysterectomy.
If you have a vaginal hysterectomy, your recovery time is typically shorter. You should be able to return to your usual activities within three or four weeks.
In the weeks following your hysterectomy, you may notice:
- pain at the incision site
- swelling, redness, or bruising at the incision site
- burning or itching near the incision
- a numb feeling near the incision or down your leg
Keep in mind that if you have a total hysterectomy that removes your ovaries, you’ll immediately begin menopause. This can cause:
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness
- night sweats
Emotional side effects
The uterus is a crucial organ for pregnancy. Removing it means that you won’t be able to get pregnant, which can be a hard adjustment for some. You’ll also stop menstruating after having a hysterectomy. For some, this is a huge relief. But even if you’re feeling relieved, you can still experience a sense of loss.
For some, pregnancy and menstruation are crucial aspects of femininity. Losing the capacity for both in a single procedure can be a lot to process for some people. Even if you’re excited by the prospect of not having to worry about pregnancy or menstruation, conflicting feelings can come up after the procedure.
Before you have a hysterectomy, consider checking out HysterSisters, an organization dedicated to providing information and support to those considering a hysterectomy.
Following any type of hysterectomy, you’ll no longer have your period. You also can’t get pregnant. These are permanent effects of having a hysterectomy.
Problems with organ prolapse can happen after a hysterectomy. A 2014 study of more than 150,000 patient records reported that 12 percent of hysterectomy patients required pelvic organ prolapse surgery.
In some organ prolapse cases, the vagina is no longer connected to the uterus and cervix. The vagina can telescope down on itself, or even bulge outside the body.
Other organs such as the bowel or the bladder can prolapse down to where the uterus used to be and push on the vagina. If the bladder is involved, this can lead to urinary problems. Surgery can correct these issues.
Most women do not experience prolapse after hysterectomy. To prevent prolapse problems, if you know you are going to have a hysterectomy, consider doing pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting your internal organs. Kegel exercises can be done anytime and anywhere.
If you have your ovaries removed during the procedure, your menopause symptoms can last for several years. If you don’t have your ovaries removed and haven’t gone through menopause yet, you may begin menopause sooner than expected.
If you have your ovaries removed and go into menopause, some of your symptoms may impact your sex life. Sexual side effects of menopause can include:
- vaginal dryness
- pain during sex
- decreased sex drive
These are all due to the change in estrogen produced by your body. There are several things you can consider to counteract these effects, such as hormone replacement therapy.
However, many women who have a hysterectomy do not experience a negative impact on their sex life. In some cases, relief from chronic pain and bleeding improves sex drive.
Hysterectomy is a major surgery. Like all surgeries, it comes with a number of immediate risks. These risks include:
- major blood loss
- damage to surrounding tissues, including the bladder, urethra, blood vessels, and nerves
- blood clots
- anesthesia side effects
- bowel blockage
These types of risks accompany most surgeries and don’t mean that having a hysterectomy isn’t safe. Your doctor should go over these risks with you before the procedure and inform you about steps they’ll take to minimize your risks of more serious side effects.
If they don’t go over this with you, don’t feel uncomfortable asking. If they can’t provide this information or answer your questions, they may not be the doctor for you.
A hysterectomy can be a life-changing procedure with major benefits and some potential risks. That’s why it’s so important to find a doctor that you trust and feel comfortable talking to before having the procedure.
A good doctor will set aside time to listen to your questions and concerns before surgery. While you should bring up any questions on your mind, here are some specific questions to consider asking:
- Are there any nonsurgical treatments that may improve my symptoms?
- Which type of hysterectomy do you recommend and why?
- What are the risks of leaving my ovaries, fallopian tubes, or cervix in place?
- Which approach to surgery will you take and why?
- Am I a good candidate for vaginal hysterectomy, laparoscopic surgery, or robotic surgery?
- Do you use the latest surgical techniques?
- Is there any new research related to my condition?
- Will I continue to need Pap smears after my hysterectomy?
- If you remove my ovaries, would you recommend hormone replacement therapy?
- Is general anesthesia always necessary?
- How long will I need to be hospitalized after my surgery?
- What is the standard at-home recovery time?
- Will I have scars, and where?
Hysterectomies can cause several short- and long-term side effects. They can also help to alleviate excruciating pain, heavy bleeding, and other frustrating symptoms. Work with your doctor to weigh the benefits and risks of the procedure and get a better idea of what to expect after surgery.