Surgical Procedures: Hysterectomy

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: December 11, 2017

What is a hysterectomy and how is it performed?

A hysterectomy is a surgery to remove the uterus and, at times, the ovaries and fallopian tubes. The uterus (womb) is the hollow reproductive organ found in a woman’s pelvis. It is where a baby grows during pregnancy. The ovaries are two almond-shaped organs that make and release eggs during ovulation. These eggs travel down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus, where if fertilized, will be implanted into the uterine lining. If the egg is not fertilized, a woman will get her period.

A hysterectomy may be used to treat some cases of:

  • Cancers of the ovary, uterus, endometrium and cervix. 
  • Endometriosis. 
  • Adenomyosis. 
  • Chronic pelvic pain.
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding. 
  • Uterine fibroids and/or prolapse.

There are a few types of hysterectomy, including:

  • Total Hysterectomy: Removal of the uterus and the cervix. In some cases, the ovaries and fallopian tubes are not removed.
  • Partial/Subtotal/Supracervical Hysterectomy: Removal of only the upper part of the uterus just above the cervix. The cervix remains. The ovaries and/or fallopian tubes may or may not be removed. 
  • Radical Hysterectomy: Removal of the uterus, cervix, tissue around the cervix, and the upper part of the vagina. The fallopian tubes may or may not be removed.
  • Oophorectomy: Removal of the ovaries. When one ovary is removed, it is called a unilateral oophorectomy, and when both ovaries are removed, it is called a bilateral oophorectomy.
  • Salpingectomy: Removal of the fallopian tubes.
  • Salpingo-oophorectomy: Removal of the ovary and fallopian tube. This can be unilateral (one side) or bilateral (both sides).

During a hysterectomy, the decision may be made to leave the ovaries. At times, ovary removal may be done to lower the risk of getting ovarian and/or breast cancer. The fallopian tubes may be removed to lower the risk of fallopian tube cancer. In this case, the ovaries may not be removed.

A hysterectomy can be done in many ways. These include:

  • Abdominal: An incision (cut) is made in the abdomen to remove the uterus.
  • Vaginal: An incision (cut) is made in the upper vagina, and the uterus is removed through the cut.
  • Laparoscopic: A laparoscope, a lighted tube with a camera, will be used. Many small incisions will be made in the abdomen where the tool(s) is inserted. 
  • Robotic: The surgeon controls a robotic arm to perform the surgery through small incisions.

What are the risks or side effects of having a hysterectomy?

The main side effect of having a hysterectomy is no longer being able to become pregnant and carry a baby. Because the uterus is removed, menstrual periods will stop. If you keep the ovaries, you may not have menopausal symptoms as estrogen is still being made by the ovaries. If the ovaries were removed during surgery, effects of menopause will happen right away. Your risk of developing osteoporosis, heart disease, and urinary incontinence is increased once menopause occurs due to removal of the ovaries.

The risks of a hysterectomy include:

  • Fever.
  • Infection.
  • Bleeding.
  • Injury to the urinary tract and/or surrounding organs.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Blood clots.
  • Bowel obstruction.
  • Reaction to anesthesia. (Anesthesia is the medication you are given to help you sleep through the surgery, not remember it and to manage pain. Reactions can include wheezing, rash, swelling and low blood pressure.) 
  • Sexual changes including vaginal dryness and/or loss of interest in sex.

What is recovery like?

Recovery from a hysterectomy will depend on many factors. A stay in the hospital may be needed for one to several days, depending on the type of hysterectomy you have had. You may have a bladder catheter in place for one to two days to drain your bladder of urine. In certain situations, you may need to go home with the catheter in place.

Early walking and deep breathing will be encouraged to prevent blood clots and pneumonia.

Your medical team will discuss with you the medications you will be taking, such as those for pain, blood clot, infection, and constipation prevention and/or other conditions. 

Your provider will tell you what you should and should not do when you go home. This will often include:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid heavy lifting.
  • No tub bathing, sexual intercourse or anything in the vagina (tampons, douching, etc) for 4-8 weeks or until instructed by your healthcare provider.
  • Bloody to light vaginal discharge can be expected for several weeks.
  • Do not drive if you are taking narcotic pain medication.
  • If you have constipation, you can make changes to your diet, increase your fluid intake, and over-the-counter medication. You should not strain to have a bowel movement.

Women generally can expect to recover from an abdominal hysterectomy in 4 to 6 weeks, whereas recovery after a vaginal hysterectomy is about 3-4 weeks.

What will I need at home?

  • Thermometer to check for fever, which can be a sign of infection.
  • Loose clothes and underwear.
  • Incision care items, often times supplied by the hospital/physician office.
  • Sanitary pads for vaginal bleeding/discharge.

Care of incision

Incisions should be kept clean and dry. You can shower but do not scrub the incision. Allow the water to run over the incision, gently clean with a mild soap and pat dry.

Be sure to look for signs of infection including redness, swelling, drainage or separation (opening) of the incision and report these to your provider.

At times, drains may be left in place, making careful attention to gentle drying important.

If staples are present, they will be removed at your post-operative visit (approx. 10-14 days following surgery), at which time steri-strips (special tape) will be placed. It is ok to shower with either staples or steri-strips.

Wear loose fitting clothes to avoid incisional irritation. Avoid sun exposure to the incision.

Do not apply lotions or ointments to your incision unless instructed by your healthcare team.

How can I care for myself?

You may need a family member or friend to help you with your daily tasks until you are feeling better. It may take some time before your team tells you that it is ok to go back to your normal activity.

Be sure to take your prescribed medications as directed to prevent pain, infection and/or constipation. Call your team with any new or worsening symptoms.

There are ways to manage constipation after your surgery. You can change your diet, drink more fluids, and take over-the-counter medications. Talk with your care team before taking any medications for constipation. 

Taking deep breaths and resting can help manage pain, keep your lungs healthy after anesthesia, and promote good drainage of lymphatic fluid. Try to do deep breathing and relaxation exercises a few times a day in the first week, or when you notice you are extra tense.

  • Example of a relaxation exercise: While sitting, close your eyes and take 5-10 slow deep breaths. Relax your muscles. Slowly roll your head and shoulders.

This article contains general information. Please be sure to talk to your care team about your specific plan and recovery.

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