As many as 60,000 hysterectomies are performed each year. Despite how common they are, healing after a hysterectomy is no easy feat. The body undergoes many changes—physical and hormonal—after a hysterectomy. Women have also reported emotional trauma and depression following the operation.
However, for many women, hysterectomies can be lifesaving. After genetic testing, women who have theBRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations choose to have a hysterectomy as a preventative measure. Studies show having the surgery lowers risk of dying from ovarian cancer by 80 percent.
Many women with the Essure birth control device, meant to be a permanent contraceptive, later required a hysterectomy due to a series of complications. For women who make the choice, we’ve created a guide to information about healing with a hysterectomy.
What are the types of hysterectomies?
Four out of the five types of hysterectomies are less invasive and, in turn, easier to heal from. The less invasive the surgery, the less chance of developing permanent scarring. Women who choose a vaginal or laparoscopic operation experience little to no scarring.
Here are the five types of hysterectomies:
The least invasive option where the uterus is taken out through the vagina. There is no visible scarring.
Laparoscopic Supracervical Hysterectomy
Three to four small incisions are made to the abdomen through which the doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube with a camera to see inside your pelvis. The uterus is removed through the incisions.
Laparoscopically-Assisted Vaginal Hysterectomy
Small incisions are made to the abdomen and a vagina. A laparoscope and other surgical tools are inserted in the abdominal incisions and the uterus is removed through the vagina. Women who undergo this procedure usually experience pain for two to three weeks afterward.
This procedure removes the organs with the aid of a computer and robotics using small abdominal incisions.
Traditional Surgical Hysterectomy
The last option is the traditional surgical procedure which includes moving the reproductive organs through opening the abdomen. It’s the most invasive option and calls for longer healing time and usually leaves a large scar. Pain usually lasts from three to five weeks.
Risks of a Hysterectomy
Hysterectomies should be a last resort for many reproductive ailments. It is not a cure for issues such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Women should consult with their doctor about other options before a hysterectomy.
If they proceed with the surgery, doctors recommend that patients choose a surgery option that is minimally invasive to avoid risks such as blood clots, infection, early menopause and injury to nearby organs. Women who are overweight may be more susceptible to bleeding and infection according to a study in the Journal of Human Reproduction.
Healing After a Hysterectomy
Hospital stays, healing and pain levels vary depending on the hysterectomy procedure. Some women only need their cervix removed, while others may also need the uterus removed. These details change the duration and level of pain after surgery.
It’s possible for menopause to start early in women with hysterectomies. Menopause starts when the body stops creating estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate menstruation.
If the ovaries are removed for medical reasons, such as ovarian cancer, it’s possible for menopause to start early. But if the ovaries are intact this is highly unlikely.
According to a study from Duke University published in the Journal of Obstetrician and Oncology, researchers are unsure if it’s the operation that causes early menopause or the underlying condition that the women are facing. If a patient was premenopausal before the hysterectomy, it is likely that you will experience abrupt menopause with symptoms, like hot flashes and night sweats, after the operation.
Treatments After a Hysterectomy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment used to augment the body’s natural hormone levels in the form of estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) or as estrogen with progesterone therapy (EPT). The combination of estrogen and progesterone is for women who have had a hysterectomy but still have a uterus.
ERT is often prescribed to alleviate hysterectomy-related issues. However, if you are over 45 and at risk for breast cancer, your doctor may forgo estrogen replacement therapy to avoid increasing the chance of cancer. Oral hormone therapy of any kind carries its own set of risks including stroke, heart disease and deep vein thrombosis. Specialists will know the best course of action.
Sex After a Hysterectomy
Women who undergo hysterectomies often report having better and more comfortable sex. The procedure often alleviates pain that patients were experiencing before. In addition, they don’t have to worry about what may have been an at-risk or unwanted pregnancy.
The timing to wait until having sex depends on the type of surgery that the patient undergoes, but two to four weeks is generally recommended. If your cervix was removed it will take closer to six weeks to heal enough to have intercourse.
Emotional Effects of a Hysterectomy
It has been reported that women who have had hysterectomies experience postoperative depression, insomnia and loss of appetite amongst other emotional symptoms. It’s normal to experience hormonal and emotional imbalances after undergoing a hysterectomy and many physicians recommend seeking professional help to navigate the emotional trauma that comes after the operation.
Many women have fear of surgery complications ahead of the operation while some grieve the impending reality of infertility. Stress has been linked to slower healing of wounds, so it’s important to remember why the operation was necessary. It’s usually done to save cancer patients lives or to eliminate prolonged and insufferable pain.
Physicians and psychologists recommend remaining relaxed throughout the healing process and surrounding yourself with a strong support system to offset the negative emotions and distress attached to hysterectomies.
Some tools to help include exploring progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques and meditation in tandem with talk therapy. Women should build a medical team they trust, talk to their doctors and be prepared for the healing process ahead with information and optimism.
Featured photo by Meghan Holmes