A hysterectomy is a type of surgery that removes the uterus. It may be a treatment option for conditions like uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or gynecologic cancer. There are three different types of hysterectomy:
- Total: During a total hysterectomy, both the uterus and cervix are removed. This is the most common type of hysterectomy.
- Partial: A partial, or supracervical, hysterectomy removes the upper portion of the uterus, but keeps the cervix in place.
- Radical: In a radical hysterectomy, the uterus, cervix, and surrounding tissues are removed. This may be done when gynecological cancer has been diagnosed.
There are several ways that a hysterectomy is performed, including through the vagina or through the abdomen. It’s done either through a traditional incision or laparoscopically, or a combination of these approaches. Regardless of how a hysterectomy is done, it’s vital not to overexert yourself after your procedure.
Below, we’ll cover signs that you may have overdone it after a hysterectomy, activities to avoid, and when to seek medical care.
Getting plenty of rest is important following any major surgery, and a hysterectomy is no exception. This is particularly vital in the first few days after you’ve returned home from the hospital.
While rest is important, starting to move around as often as possible is also key to your recovery. As you begin to do this, you may find that you tire easily. It’s normal to feel this way, even if you were active prior to your surgery.
However, it’s possible that you can overdo it as well.
Remember that the tissues of your pelvic area have undergone a traumatic event and need to heal. Depending on the procedure that you had, you may also have sutures on your abdomen, inside your vagina, or both.
During your recovery period, these areas will be sensitive to anything that strains or stretches them. Because of this, it’s important to listen to your body and avoid trying to do too much at once.
Here are signs that you’ve been overexerting yourself after your procedure:
Some pain or discomfort is normal after a hysterectomy. You’ll typically take medications to ease pain in first 1 or 2 weeks after your surgery.
However, pain is also a common indicator that you may be overexerting yourself after your surgery. This may include increases in:
- abdominal pain or pressure
- pelvic pain or pressure
- lower back pain
Stop doing any activity that leads to increased pain. After a few days, carefully revisit the activity.
In general, doing normal activities will cause less pain over time. If pain remains persistent or gets worse, and doesn’t improve with pain medications, contact your doctor.
Vaginal bleeding or discharge
Vaginal bleeding and discharge is normal after a hysterectomy and can last for a few weeks. As time passes, this will taper off until it stops altogether.
If you notice that vaginal bleeding or discharge increases after a specific activity, you may have done too much. Rest and carefully monitor the situation.
You’ll likely need to wear a pad during recovery for vaginal bleeding and discharge. If you notice that increased bleeding or discharge soaks through a pad quickly or contains blood clots, call your doctor.
Incisions start to ooze or weep
If you have incisions on your abdomen, you may notice that they will leak a small amount of clear or light red fluid in the days after your procedure. This is normal and should go away shortly.
Movements that pull or stretch the area around your incisions can irritate them. This may cause additional drainage of fluid or blood.
If this happens, stop doing that particular activity and allow the area to rest and heal. It may be helpful to wear loose, breathable clothing to avoid further irritation.
If you notice heavy fluid or blood drainage that soaks through your dressings, seek immediate medical care. Additionally, drainage of pus from your incision signals an infection that requires medical attention.
Your doctor will give you detailed information on activities to avoid as you recover. Let’s examine some of these activities and when you may begin doing them again.
Exact timeframes may vary depending on factors like the type of hysterectomy you had, how the procedure was done, and your overall health. When in doubt, stick to your doctor’s instructions.
Bathing and showering
When you leave the hospital, you’ll be given instructions about wound care. This will include information on bathing and showering.
You should be able to shower the day after your procedure. During this time, you can allow the water to run over your incisions. However, try to avoid having water hit it directly.
After showering, use a clean tissue or paper towel to carefully pat incisions dry.
Exact instructions on bathing can depend on your doctor and the type of procedure that you had. You may need to wait at least 4 weeks until you can completely submerge in a bath.
Physical activity can be helpful as you recover from surgery. When you leave the hospital, care staff will give you information on appropriate exercises. These will also include pelvic floor exercises.
You can gradually begin to increase the intensity of exercise as you recover. However, avoid things like rigorous exercise or heavy lifting until your doctor gives the OK.
While instructions from your doctor may vary, heavy lifting is considered to be any object over 20 pounds. If you need to lift a lighter object during your recovery period, do so with bent knees and a straight back.
Ask a family member or close friend to help you with household activities — like cleaning, laundry, and meals — in the first week or so of your recovery.
While resting is important, you can start gradually doing household activities when you feel able to.
Break up household activities into more manageable chunks. For example, you may find it’s easier to wash a few dishes, take a break, and then wash a few more dishes.
Additionally, you can modify certain types of household tasks, like sitting instead of standing to fold clothes.
Avoid household activities that are strenuous or involve heavy lifting. Examples include:
- putting away heavy cookware
- carrying bags of groceries
Generally speaking, it’s OK to drive when:
- you can effectively operate all of the controls in the car
- you feel comfortable while wearing a seat belt
- you’re able to come to an emergency stop
- you’re no longer taking medications that have a sedative effect, such as pain medications
This may be between 3 to 8 weeks after your hysterectomy. To gauge your level of comfort, sit in your car while it’s off perform motions that you’d do while driving, such as using the pedals, shifting, and looking over your shoulder.
When you do begin driving again, take a friend or family member along with you the first time you go out. That way, if you experience discomfort, they can take over for you.
Going back to work
When you return to work depends on the type of job that you have. For example, if you work from home, you may be able to return to work earlier than if you have a job that involves manual labor or heavy lifting.
For jobs that don’t require physical exertion, you may be able to return to work between 4 and 6 weeks after laparoscopic or vaginal hysterectomy, but for an abdominal procedure it may take longer, at 6 to 8 weeks.
Wait to have sex until your surgical wounds have healed and vaginal discharge has stopped. After this point, which may be 8 weeks after your hysterectomy, you can have sex as long as it’s comfortable for you.
It’s normal to have reduced libido following a hysterectomy. This typically improves as your recovery continues.
Before traveling after your hysterectomy, consider factors like:
- the length of your drive or flight
- whether you’ll be comfortable while traveling
- if the activities you’ll do during your travels are appropriate for the stage of your recovery
When in doubt, speak with your doctor before traveling during your recovery period. They can tell you about risks associated with travel and steps you can take to travel safely.
Typically, you’ll visit your doctor for a follow-up 2 weeks after the hysterectomy. During this time, they’ll assess how your recovery is proceeding.
However, there are signs that you should seek medical attention sooner. Contact your doctor if you experience:
- vaginal bleeding or discharge that has a foul odor
- signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI), such as:
- frequent urination
- painful or burning sensation when you urinate
- cloudy urine
- foul-smelling urine
- symptoms of an infection around your incision, such as:
- fever or chills
- tenderness, redness, or swelling around the incision
- pus draining from the incision
- prolonged constipation or diarrhea
Some symptoms are more serious and can signal a medical emergency. Call 911 or visit an emergency room if you have:
- pain that starts to get worse or is persistent, despite pain medications
- pain with fever, nausea, vomiting, or reduced appetite
- heavy vaginal bleeding
- heavy discharge or bleeding from your incision that soaks through your dressings
- signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), such as an area of your leg that’s swollen, red, tender, or warm to the touch
- symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, including chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, rapid heartbeat, or coughing up blood
Both rest and minor activity are important after a hysterectomy. However, it’s also possible to overexert yourself.
Signs of overexertion include increased pain, vaginal discharge or bleeding, or drainage from your incision. If any of these happen, stop doing an activity and revisit it again in several days. If symptoms get worse, call your doctor.
You’ll be given instructions on when and how to start doing activities during your recovery, so follow these carefully. As you recover, be patient and listen to your body.