What is a hysterectomy?
A hysterectomy is surgery to take out a woman's uterus, the organ in a woman's belly where a baby grows during pregnancy. After a hysterectomy, you will not be able to get pregnant.
Other organs might also be removed if you have severe problems such as endometriosis or cancer. These organs include the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina), the ovaries (glands on both sides of the uterus that release eggs for pregnancy), and the fallopian tubes (the passageway between the uterus and the ovaries).
Whether or not the ovaries are removed will depend on your age and risk for certain types of cancer. For example, removing the ovaries lowers the risk of ovarian cancer and some types of breast cancer. But if you have your ovaries removed before the age of menopause, you will go into early menopause, and you may be more likely to get heart disease or osteoporosis. Be sure to discuss with your doctor all the benefits and risks of removing your ovaries.
See a picture of the female reproductive system.
Most often, hysterectomy is done to treat problems with the uterus, such as pain and heavy bleeding caused by endometriosis or fibroid tumors. The surgery may also be needed if there is cancer in the uterus, cervix, or ovaries. Some women may have the surgery during childbirth to save their lives if there is heavy bleeding that cannot be stopped.
Before you choose to have a hysterectomy, consider all of your treatment options. In many cases, this surgery is a last resort after trying other treatments for the problem.
There are many different ways to do hysterectomy surgery. The type of surgery you have depends on three main things: the reason for the surgery, the size of the uterus and its position in the belly, and your overall health. The most common types are:
Feeling better after surgery takes time. Most women are in the hospital 1 or 2 days after the surgery. Some women stay in the hospital up to 4 days.
When you get home, make sure you move around, but also be sure you don't do too much. You can walk around the house and up and down stairs, but take it slow. During the first 2 weeks, it's important to get plenty of rest. Even after you start to feel stronger, you should not lift heavy things (anything over 20 pounds). Also, you should not have sex until your doctor says it's okay. It usually takes 4 to 8 weeks to get back to a normal routine.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about hysterectomy:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
|Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.|
|Hysterectomy and Oophorectomy: Should I Use Estrogen Therapy (ET)?|
|Hysterectomy: Should I Also Have My Ovaries Removed?|
In most cases, hysterectomy is an elective surgery used to treat noncancerous female reproductive system (gynecologic) conditions that haven't improved with medical treatment. For women who have no plans for pregnancy and have considered and tried other treatment options without success, a hysterectomy may be a reasonable treatment choice.
Reasons for hysterectomy include:
There are three major types of hysterectomy:
Deciding whether to have a total or subtotal hysterectomy can be difficult. This is because research that compares the two is limited and shows only small differences. In the past, experts believed that a subtotal hysterectomy reduced problems after surgery and prevented problems with urinary incontinence and/or sexual dysfunction. But research has shown that for certain conditions, a subtotal hysterectomy does not prevent these problems better than a total hysterectomy does.1
When considering a hysterectomy, ask your doctor what other treatments can be used for your condition, what hysterectomy options are available to you, and how well hysterectomy is likely to work for you. If you have a hysterectomy, the type of procedure you have will depend on the medical reason for the hysterectomy, the size and position of your uterus, and your general state of health.
Hysterectomy procedures (how the uterus is removed) include:
For more information about procedures, see the Comparison of Different Hysterectomy Procedures section of this topic.
There are several different hysterectomy procedures, each with advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your reason for considering a hysterectomy, you may have a choice between two or more procedures. For complicated or cancer-related conditions that require maximum access and careful examination, your doctor will likely recommend an abdominal hysterectomy.
This type of hysterectomy is done through a small incision in the vagina, rather than through an abdominal incision. The ovaries and other organs may also be removed. Vaginal hysterectomy tends to cause less pain, and takes less healing time than abdominal hysterectomy. A vaginal hysterectomy can be done:
Vaginal hysterectomy requires more specialized surgical skill than an abdominal hysterectomy. It can pose a higher risk of injury to other organs. Vaginal hysterectomy is not used when there is a question about possible cancer in the uterus, cervix, or ovaries.
This type of hysterectomy is done through a larger abdominal incision, giving the surgeon the best possible access to the pelvic organs. The cervix may be removed with the uterus (total hysterectomy) or left in place (subtotal hysterectomy). The ovaries and other organs may also be removed. An abdominal hysterectomy is typically done when:
If a hysterectomy is chosen to treat endometriosis, an abdominal hysterectomy is usually required. One example is when endometriosis growths (implants) or scar tissue (adhesions) must be removed to restore the function of other organs.
Laparoscopic hysterectomy is done with a viewing instrument (laparoscope) and surgical instruments inserted through a vaginal incision and one or more small abdominal incisions. The ovaries and other organs may also be removed. The uterus is removed through the vagina. It is done:
LAVH requires the surgeon to have specialized training.
Laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy is done by inserting a laparoscope and surgical instruments through several small abdominal incisions. The uterus is removed in small pieces through one of the incisions and the cervix is left intact. This is also known as subtotal or partial hysterectomy. This type of procedure usually causes minimal blood loss and pain. The hospital stay is shorter than for total abdominal surgery. Most women can return to normal activity a week or two afterward. LSH can be done:
LSH usually takes longer to do than abdominal or vaginal hysterectomy. LSH is not available in some areas.
The total laparoscopic hysterectomy is done by inserting a laparoscope and surgical instruments through several small incisions in the abdomen. The uterus and the cervix are removed in small pieces through one of the incisions. TLH can be done:
TLH requires the surgeon to have special training. It usually takes longer to do than abdominal or vaginal hysterectomy. But recovery and hospital stay are shorter than for total abdominal hysterectomy. TLH is not available in many parts of the country.
|Vaginal hysterectomy|| |
When compared with abdominal hysterectomy, a routine vaginal hysterectomy:
|Abdominal hysterectomy|| |
When compared with other types of hysterectomy, a routine abdominal hysterectomy:
|Laparoscopically assisted vaginal hysterectomy (LAVH)|| |
When compared with other types of hysterectomy, a routine LAVH:
|Laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy (LSH)|| |
When compared with other types of hysterectomy, a routine LSH:
|Total laparoscopic hysterectomy (TLH)|| |
When compared with other types of hysterectomy, a routine TLH:
Hysterectomy poses some risks of major and minor complications. But most women do not have complications after a hysterectomy.
Some studies have shown complication rates that are about the same for total laparoscopic hysterectomy (TLH), laparoscopically assisted vaginal hysterectomy (LAVH), and total abdominal hysterectomy (TAH).4, 5 Your risk of problems after surgery may be higher or lower than average. This may depend in part on how experienced the surgeon is.
Rates of major complications after vaginal hysterectomy and abdominal hysterectomy (rounded to nearest 0.5%):3
|Type of complication||Vaginal hysterectomy (without laparoscopy)||Abdominal hysterectomy (without laparoscopy)|
Heavy blood loss requiring blood transfusion
Blood clot in lung (pulmonary embolism)
Anesthesia problems (such as breathing or heart problems)
Need to change to abdominal incision during surgery
0.5% (repeat incision)
Wound pulling open (dehiscence)
Collection of blood (hematoma) at the surgery site needing surgical drainage
At least one major complication
In the study described above, the major complication rate was nearly twice as high after laparoscopic abdominal hysterectomies than after open abdominal hysterectomies. Complication rates were about the same for vaginal and laparoscopic vaginal surgeries. (These rates do not apply to radical hysterectomy done to treat cancer.)3
Rates of minor complications after vaginal hysterectomy and abdominal hysterectomy (rounded to nearest 0.5%):3
|Type of complication||Vaginal hysterectomy (without laparoscopy)||Abdominal hysterectomy (without laparoscopy)|
Heavy blood loss not requiring transfusion
Collection of blood (hematoma) at the surgery site not needing surgical drainage
At least one minor complication
In the study described above, there was no significant difference in minor complication rates, whether the hysterectomy was laparoscopic, vaginal, or abdominal. (These rates do not apply to radical hysterectomy done to treat cancer.)
Other ongoing complications of hysterectomy include:
Before a hysterectomy, you may have:
Your doctor may order additional tests based on your physical exam and medical history. These tests may include:
See a list of questions to ask your doctor when you are considering hysterectomy.
After a hysterectomy, call your doctor or go to the emergency room if:
Your doctor will give you specific instructions after your hysterectomy. Be sure to follow them. Usually, getting some rest and following those instructions will help postoperative problems diminish over time.
Recovering from a hysterectomy takes time. You will stay in the hospital for 1 to 2 days for postsurgery care. Some women stay in the hospital up to 4 days.
Abdominal hysterectomy. As soon as you feel strong enough, get up and around as much as you can. This helps prevent problems after surgery like blood clots, pneumonia, and gas pains. During the first 2 to 3 weeks, it is important to also get plenty of rest. Hold a pillow over your incision when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your belly and decrease your pain.
You will gradually be able to increase your activities. To help you heal well, avoid lifting more than 20 pounds during the first 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. For the same reason, this is also an important time to avoid vaginal intercourse.
As soon as you can move easily without pain or without using narcotic pain medicine, you can drive. Complete recovery usually takes 4 to 8 weeks. Your return to a work routine will depend not only on how quickly you get back your energy and strength but also on how demanding your work is.
Vaginal or laparoscopic hysterectomy. As soon as you feel strong enough, get up and around as much as you can. This helps prevent problems after surgery like blood clots, pneumonia, and gas pains. When you can move easily without pain, you can drive. To help you heal well, avoid lifting more than 20 pounds during the first 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. For the same reason, this is also an important time to avoid vaginal intercourse.
Recovery from a vaginal or laparoscopic hysterectomy takes much less time than from an abdominal surgery. After a routine laparoscopic surgery removing the uterus but not the cervix (laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy, or LSH), most women are able to return to normal activity in 1 to 2 weeks. About 4 to 6 weeks after the hysterectomy, see your doctor for a follow-up examination.
Pelvic weakness. After a hysterectomy, some women develop other physical problems that are related to weakness of the pelvic muscles and ligaments that support the vagina, bladder, and rectum. Kegel exercises may help strengthen the pelvic muscles and ligaments. But some women need other treatments, including additional surgery.
Vaginal dryness from low estrogen levels may develop if your ovaries were removed (oophorectomy). This can also develop gradually after a hysterectomy. If sexual intercourse is painful because of vaginal dryness:
Pain during intercourse may occur if your vagina was shortened during your hysterectomy. Changing positions may help make intercourse less painful. Talk with your doctor if you have any difficulty during intercourse after a hysterectomy.
It is normal to have various concerns when faced with the possibility of having a hysterectomy. A woman's emotions are often based on her beliefs about the importance of her uterus, her fears about her health or personal relationships after a hysterectomy, and concerns about her enjoyment of sexual activities after surgery. If you are considering a hysterectomy, talk with your doctor about your specific fears and anxieties concerning the surgery.
Your doctor may suggest other treatments before recommending a hysterectomy. If you are considering a hysterectomy and would like more information about other treatments or surgeries, talk with your doctor. Ask about the risks and benefits of each option. Consider both the immediate and long-term risks and benefits of all treatments.
Hysterectomy is a necessary and effective treatment for cancer of the pelvic organs, a severe infection of the uterus, or uncontrollable bleeding.
Following hysterectomy, you will not be able to become pregnant. If you have plans for a future pregnancy, hysterectomy is not an appropriate treatment option for conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or pelvic organ prolapse. Talk with your doctor about other treatments.
Hysterectomy is not used to prevent pregnancy. There are many methods of birth control that are safe and effective. If you are not sure which method is best for you, talk with your doctor about your options.
Women who have early, sudden menopause after hysterectomy are usually advised to use estrogen therapy (ET) to protect against bone loss. The low estrogen levels of menopause cause bone thinning. Compared with women who are not taking hormone therapy, women taking ERT have fewer hip fractures (a sign of estrogen's bone-protecting effect).7
For more information, see:
|American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)|
|409 12th Street SW|
|P.O. Box 70620|
|Washington, DC 20024-9998|
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is a nonprofit organization of professionals who provide health care for women, including teens. The ACOG Resource Center publishes manuals and patient education materials. The Web publications section of the site has patient education pamphlets on many women's health topics, including reproductive health, breast-feeding, violence, and quitting smoking.
|International Premature Ovarian Failure Association|
|P.O. Box 23643|
|Alexandria, VA 22304|
This organization offers support for women who have entered menopause early. The organization offers information, referrals, phone support, and literature.
|National Women's Health Network|
|514 10th Street NW|
|Washington, DC 20004|
This nonprofit advocacy group includes consumers, health centers, and organizations. The National Women's Health Network monitors federal health policy and operates an information clearinghouse.
|Office on Women's Health|
|Department of Health and Human Services|
|200 Independence Avenue, SW Room 712E|
|Washington, DC 20201|
The Office on Women's Health is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides women's health information to a variety of audiences, including consumers, health professionals, and researchers.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2007, reaffirmed 2010). Supracervical hysterectomy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 388. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 110(5): 1215–1217.
- Nieboer TE, et al. (2009). Surgical approach to hysterectomy for benign gynaecological disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
- Garry R, et al. (2004). The eVALuate study: Two parallel randomised trials, one comparing laparoscopic with abdominal hysterectomy, the other comparing laparoscopic with vaginal hysterectomy. BMJ, 328(7432): 129.
- Hoffman CP, et al. (2005). Laparoscopic hysterectomy: The Kaiser Permanente San Diego experience. Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, 12(1): 16–24.
- Ghezzi F, et al. (2006). Laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomy versus total laparoscopic hysterectomy for the management of endometrial cancer: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, 13(2): 114–120.
- Antimicrobial prophylaxis for surgery. (2009) Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 7(82): 47–52.
- Women's Health Initiative Steering Committee (2004). Effects of conjugated equine estrogen in postmenopausal women with hysterectomy. JAMA, 291(14): 1701–1712.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology|
|Last Revised||January 9, 2012|
Last Revised: January 9, 2012
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.