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What is a hysterectomy?

Hysterectomy is surgery to remove the uterus. Your healthcare provider may also remove one or both ovaries, and the fallopian tubes. In some cases, he or she may remove other parts of the reproductive system.

The types of hysterectomy include:

  • Total hysterectomy. Your provider removes the whole uterus including the cervix, but not the fallopian tubes or ovaries.It’s the most common type of hysterectomy.
  • Hysterectomy with salpingo-oophorectomy. Your provider removes one or both ovaries, and the fallopian tubes, along with the uterus.
  • Radical hysterectomy. Your provider removes the uterus, cervix, and the top part of the vagina. The pelvic lymph nodes may also be removed. Some cases of cancer call for this surgery.
  • Supracervical hysterectomy (partial or subtotal hysterectomy). Your provider removes the body of the uterus while leaving the cervix whole.

Hysterectomy techniques include:

  • Abdominal hysterectomy. Your healthcare provider makes a large incision in your abdomen and removes the uterus. He or she will use this method to remove the fallopian tubes, when the uterus is enlarged, or when disease has spread to the pelvic cavity, as in endometriosis or cancer. The incision can be made from the navel down to the pubic bone, or along the top of the pubic hairline.
  • Vaginal hysterectomy. In this method, your provider removes the uterus through the vaginal opening. It’s most often used for uterine prolapse, or when vaginal repairs are needed. You will not need an incision, which means there is no visible scarring.
  • Laparoscope-assisted vaginal hysterectomy. Your provider uses a laparoscope, a thin, flexible tube with a video camera, for this method.He or she inserts thin tubes through tiny incisions in the abdomen near the navel. Your provider removes the uterus in sections through the laparoscope tube or through the vagina.

Your healthcare provider will decide the best method based on your situation.

If you have not yet reached menopause, having a hysterectomy means you will no longer have a period. You will also not be able to get pregnant.

Why might I need a hysterectomy?

You may need a hysterectomy for:

  • Fibroid tumors. These are noncancerous tumors.
  • Endometriosis. A condition in which endometrial cells grow outside of the uterus, attaching themselves to other organs in the pelvic cavity. This causes chronic pelvic pain, pain during sex, and prolonged or heavy bleeding.
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding. This is often due to endometrial hyperplasia. This is an over-thickening of the uterine lining that may cause abnormal bleeding.
  • Cancer. You have cervical, ovarian, or endometrial cancer.
  • Blockage. The uterus or a growth blocks the bladder or intestines.
  • Uterine prolapse. This is when the uterus drops down into the vagina.
  • Chronic pelvic conditions. This may include pelvic pain, or pelvic inflammatory disease.

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a hysterectomy.

What are the risks for a hysterectomy?

Some possible complications include:

  • Bleeding
  • Injury to the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder (ureters) and bladder
  • Infection
  • Injury to the bowel or other intestinal organs
  • Trouble with urination or urinary incontinence

If you have not reached menopause before a hysterectomy, you may have menopause symptoms. This includes hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. You will no longer have a period after a hysterectomy.

You may also have mood swings, depression, and feel a loss of sexual identity after hysterectomy.

You may have other risks based on your condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.

How do I get ready for a hysterectomy?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you and you can ask questions.
  • You will be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.
  • Your healthcare provider will review your health history and do a complete physical exam to be sure you are in good health before having the procedure. You may have blood tests or other diagnostic tests.
  • You will be asked to fast for 8 hours before the procedure, generally after midnight.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you could be.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are sensitive to or are allergic to any medicines, iodine, latex, tape, or anesthesia.
  • Tell your healthcare provider of all medicines (prescription and over-the-counter) and herbal supplements that you are taking.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have a history of bleeding disorders or if you are taking any blood-thinning medicines (anticoagulants), aspirin, or other medicines that affect blood clotting. You may be told to stop these medicines before to the procedure.
  • Your provider will tell you how to cleanse your bowels before the operation.
  • Do not to douche or use tampons on the day of the procedure.
  • Your provider will give you a sedative before you are taken to the operating room. You will be asleep for the procedure.
  • You may be given an antibiotic to take the day before the procedure.
  • Arrange for someone to help around the house for a week or two after you go home.
  • Follow any other instructions your provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during a hysterectomy?

You will likely need to stay in the hospital for a hysterectomy. Procedures may vary based on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.

The procedure will vary based on the technique used.

Generally, a hysterectomy follows this process:

  • You will need to remove any jewelry or other objects that may interfere with the procedure.
  • You will need to to remove clothing and put on a hospital gown.
  • If there is too much hair at the surgical site, it may be shaved off.
  • An intravenous (IV) line will be put in your arm or hand.
  • You will be positioned on the operating table lying on your back. For a vaginal procedure, your feet will be placed in stirrups.
  • The anesthesiologist will watch your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen level during the procedure.
  • Your provider will insert a thin, narrow tube (catheter) into your bladder to drain urine.

Abdominal hysterectomy

  • The skin over the surgical site will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution.
  • Your provider will make an incision from the navel to the pubic bone or across the lower abdomen. The surgeon will discuss which incision is best for you.
  • After the incision has been made through the layers of skin, muscle, and other tissue, the healthcare provider will check the organs and other structures in the abdomen and pelvis.
  • Your provider will carefully cut away the tissues connecting the uterus to blood vessels and other structures in the pelvis.
  • Your provider will remove your uterus, along with any other structures such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix, as needed.
  • He or she will close the incision with surgical stitches or staples.

Vaginal hysterectomy

  • The lower abdomen and perineum will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution. The rectum may be packed with an antiseptic-soaked sponge.
  • Your provider will insert a speculum into your vagina to spread the walls of the vagina apart to show the cervix.
  • Your provider will make an incision inside the vagina, near the cervix.
  • Your provider will carefully cut away the tissues connecting the uterus to blood vessels and other structures in the pelvis.
  • Your provider will remove the uterus through the vagina. If needed, he or she will also remove excess vaginal tissue or other tissue or structures.
  • Your provider will use stitches to close the opening into the peritoneal cavity created.

Laparoscope-assisted vaginal hysterectomy

  • The skin over the surgical site will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution.
  • Your healthcare provider will make a small incision in the abdomen near the navel. He or she will inflate the abdomen with carbon dioxide gas. This lets the surgeon easily see the uterus and surrounding organs. Your provider may make more incisions in the abdomen for other surgical tools.
  • The operating table will be tilted so that your head is lower than your feet. This helps to move the other abdominal organs and structures out of the surgical field and make room for the laparoscopic surgical instruments.
  • Your provider will insert the laparoscope through the incision and examine the abdominal cavity. He or she will remove the tissues surrounding the uterus.
  • Your provider will then remove the uterus through the vagina or through the laparoscope. He or she may also remove other organs or structures, such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes, as needed.
  • When the procedure is done, your provider will remove the laparoscope.

After the procedure, all methods

  • Your provider will send the uterus and any other organs or tissues removed to the lab for study.
  • Your provider will use stitches or surgical staples to close any skin incision(s).
  • Your provider will put on a sterile bandage, dressing, or adhesive strips to skin incisions. He or she will apply a sanitary pad to the perineal area to absorb any drainage from the vagina.

What happens after a hysterectomy?

In the hospital

After the procedure, you will be taken to the recovery room. Your recovery will vary based on the type of procedure done and the type of anesthesia used. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are stable and you are alert, you will be taken to your hospital room.

You may have abdominal cramping after the surgery. You may get pain medicine as needed, either by a nurse or by giving it to yourself through a device connected to your IV.

If you had an abdominal hysterectomy, you may have a thin, plastic tube put through your nose into your stomach to remove air that you swallow. The tube will be removed when your bowels go back to normal. You will not be able to eat or drink until the tube is removed.

You may have small to moderate amounts of vaginal drainage for several days. The nurse will check the sanitary pads to keep an eye on the amount of drainage.

You will be urged to get out of bed within a few hours after a vaginal procedure or by the next day after an abdominal procedure. You will also be taught to do coughing and deep breathing exercises.

Based on your situation, you may be given liquids to drink a few hours after surgery. Your will gradually be able to eat more solid foods as you can handle them.

Arrange for a follow-up visit with your healthcare provider, usually a few weeks after the procedure.

At home

Once you are home, it is important to keep the incision clean and dry. Your healthcare provider will give you specific bathing instructions. If you went home with stitches or surgical staples, your provider will remove them during a follow-up office visit. If your provider used adhesive strips, keep them dry. They should fall off within a few days.

The incision and the abdominal muscles may ache, especially after long periods of standing. If a laparoscope was used, you may have shoulder pain from the carbon dioxide in your abdomen. Take a pain reliever as recommended by your healthcare provider. Aspirin or certain other pain medicines may increase the chance of bleeding. So, be sure to take only recommended medicines.

You will be able to walk and have limited movement, but avoid strenuous activity. Your healthcare provider will tell you when you can go back to work and other normal activities.

Include fiber and plenty of liquids to avoid constipation. Your healthcare provider may recommend a mild laxative.

If you had a laparoscopic procedure, avoid drinking carbonated drinks for 1 to 2 days after the procedure. This will help lessen the discomfort from the carbon dioxide gas. These drinks may also cause nausea.

Do not use a douche, tampons, have sex, or return to work until your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

Tell your healthcare provider if you have any of the following:

  • Fever or chills
  • Redness, swelling, or bleeding or other drainage from the incision site(s)
  • Increased pain around the incision site(s)
  • Abdominal pain, cramping, or swelling
  • Increased vaginal bleeding or other drainage
  • Leg pain

After a hysterectomy, your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, based on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure and who will do it
  • When and how will you get the results
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure
Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy A. RN, BSN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna PhD, CNM, FNP
Date Last Reviewed: 3/30/2014
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