A hysterectomy is a common surgical procedure that involves the removal of the uterus for reasons relating to certain gynecological disorders. According to the Center for Disease Control, hysterectomies are the second most frequently received surgery among women of reproductive age in the United States (the average age is 42) after cesarean sections, with nearly half a million women getting a hysterectomy in this country each year.
Hysterectomy Surgery & Recovery
There are several different types of hysterectomy and a variety of surgical options. Doctors determine the best type and method for each patient, based on the underlying medical condition precipitating the hysterectomy and the individual’s personal health history.
- Total hysterectomy: The surgical removal of the entire uterus, to include removal of the cervix.
- Supracervical hysterectomy: The partial removal of the uterus, but the cervix remains intact.
- Radical hysterectomy: The removal of the entire uterus, including the cervix and the ligaments that hold the uterus in place. The ovaries may or may not be removed depending upon the specifics of each individual case.
In addition to the specific form of the surgical procedure a hysterectomy may take, there are different methods of removal.
- Vaginally: The uterus is removed through a small incision that is made in the vagina.
- Abdominally: The uterus is removed through an incision that is made in the lower abdomen.
- Laparoscopic: A laparoscope is very small surgical tool that is fitted with a light and a camera that allows a doctor to view the reproductive organs. During a laparoscopic hysterectomy, small incisions are made in either the abdomen or the vagina and the physician uses the laparoscope and surgical tools to remove the uterus via the incisions.
- Robotic: In a procedure that is very similar to the laparoscopic method, a robotic hysterectomy is performed by a surgeon using a robotic arm to remove the uterus through small abdominal or vaginal incisions.
The recovery time is different for everyone and it is determined by the gynecological disorder the hysterectomy is seeking to treat and the type of surgery received. Sometimes, a patient may be sent home on the same day as her hysterectomy, while in other cases, a multi-day hospital stay may be required.
Why is a Hysterectomy Necessary?
Woman may need hysterectomies for many reasons. Many gynecological disorders and diseases can be mitigated or even cured by removing the uterus. For instance, some women suffer from painful conditions that cause debilitating side effects. Such conditions include diseases that affect the lining of the uterus, including endometriosis and adenomyosis. Other ailments that can be helped with a hysterectomy are uterine fibroids and/or polyps, or uterine prolapse which is a condition that occurs when the uterus slips out of place.
Cancer or pre-cancer is another reason for many hysterectomies. Ovarian, cervical, or uterine cancers sometimes necessitate treatment via hysterectomy as well as cancer of the endmetrium, or the lining of the uterus.
A diagnosis of a gynecological condition does not, however, guarantee a hysterectomy. Even some cancer diagnoses do not always demand a hysterectomy. In some cases, there are other treatments options, but sometimes a hysterectomy is the best treatment option available.
Side Effects of Hysterectomies
As with any major surgical event, there are some side effects associated with hysterectomies and they can vary from person to person.
The most significant result of a hysterectomy is that it ends a woman’s ability to have children. For women who want children or feel they have not finished having children, this can be devastating news. Some women decide to pursue alternate methods to treat their gynecological issues in an effort to avoid or delay a hysterectomy.
All women who receive a hysterectomy will cease having periods. However, this is not menopause. The ovaries are still in place and functioning normally. If the ovaries are removed as part of the planned surgery, a woman will go into menopause and experience the associated symptoms such as hormonal fluctuations, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, changed to sexual function and/or libido, and possible mood disturbances. However, if the ovaries are not removed, women will not go into menopause immediately after a hysterectomy. On average, women progress into natural menopause around age 51.
Some women experience complicated emotional feelings after a hysterectomy. Common responses include a sense of loss or sadness. Such an emotional reaction to such a considerable life event is valid and understandable, if not universal.
Benefits of the Hysterectomy Procedure
There are many benefits to having a hysterectomy. Most significantly, hysterectomies often cure or greatly decrease the effects of painful medical conditions. Many women also enjoy no longer having to deal with a monthly menstrual cycle or needing to worry about unwanted pregnancies.
A hysterectomy is a significant but common surgery that can do a lot of good for women who are suffering from difficult gynecological ailments. And while the reasons that often lead women to need a hysterectomy are complicated, personal, and often emotionally difficult, the surgery can also alleviate pain and mitigate or even cure some diseases, and the surgery allows so many women to continue living full, happy and healthy lives.