A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure which removes some or all of a woman’s reproductive organs. These organs, which include the uterus, ovaries, cervix and fallopian tubes, are located in a woman’s lower abdomen. The ovaries produce eggs and hormones, the cervix is at the lower end of the uterus, the fallopian tubes transport eggs from the ovaries to the uterus, and the uterus is where the baby grows during pregnancy.
There are three types of hysterectomy procedures: total, partial and radical. A total hysterectomy, which is the most common, removes the uterus and the cervix. A partial hysterectomy removes only the upper part of the uterus, but leaves the cervix in place. The radical procedure, which is often done in the case of cancer, removes the uterus, cervix, and upper part of the vagina. Depending on the problem, sometimes one or both ovaries are removed, as well as the fallopian tubes.
This procedure may be performed for a variety of reasons, the most common being fibroids on the uterus. Removing the uterus might also be done to relieve the symptoms of endometriosis, or for uterine prolapse, cancer, chronic pelvic pain or persistent vaginal bleeding. The most common type of procedure is the abdominal method, where an incision is cut in the abdomen. However, vaginal surgeries using a laparoscope are becoming more popular as the recovery time is much shorter. The recovery for an abdominal procedure is anywhere from four to eight weeks while the vaginal surgery usually finds a woman recovered in one or two weeks.
As with any surgery, a hysterectomy involves risks which include heavy blood loss, bowel injury, bladder injury, the need to change from vaginal to abdominal in the middle of the procedure, anesthesia difficulties, and healing problems. Even so, uterine removal is still the second most common surgery among women in the United States.
If a woman hasn’t reached menopause at the time of her hysterectomy, it will stop her period and she may experience menopausal symptoms such as decreased sexual desire, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness. For many women, this prompts the question, are there options other than removing the uterus? The answer is often yes. For fibroids, endometriosis or uterine prolapse, some of the options are medication, endometrial ablation, uterine artery embolization, myomectomy, or vaginal pessary. Women should talk to their doctor about these nonsurgical treatments if a hysterectomy has been suggested.
If surgery has been prescribed, a woman should always get a second opinion, talk to her doctor about the options listed above, and educate herself about possible complications of the surgery. Every woman and every situation is different.