Your doctor brought up a hysterectomy, and as soon as you left the exam room, the questions started churning. What exactly is a hysterectomy? How long does it take to recover from a hysterectomy? How is a hysterectomy performed? Will I feel the same after I heal? It all feels more than a little overwhelming.
In this article, I’m walking through exactly what a hysterectomy is, why you may need one, types of surgeries, possible complications, alternatives to surgery, and my best tips for recovering from a hysterectomy.
What Is A Hysterectomy?
A hysterectomy is a surgery that removes a woman’s uterus. There are many different reasons why women turn to surgical removal of the womb. Depending on the goals of surgery, there are various ways doctors perform the procedure, and sometimes other organs are removed along with the uterus during surgery. These can include the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix.
Hysterectomy is the second most common surgical procedure that women undergo in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that almost 32% of women over the age of 50 have had a hysterectomy.
Why Does A Woman Have A Hysterectomy?
There are several reasons why your doctor may recommend a hysterectomy surgery. Some of the more common reasons may include:
- Uterine Fibroids
- Uterine Prolapse
- Complications during childbirth
- Infections that aren’t healing
- Uterine Hyperplasia
- Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
What Are The Types Of Hysterectomy Surgery?
Depending on the condition you’re facing, along with other factors, your doctor may suggest one of several different surgical options.
A total hysterectomy is a surgery to remove the uterus and cervix.
Also known as a supracervical hysterectomy, this is where the surgeon removes the uterus, but the cervix is left intact.
When a surgeon performs a radical hysterectomy, she removes the uterus, along with the cervix, part of the vagina, the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and tissues on the sides of the uterus.
Oophorectomy With Hysterectomy
An oophorectomy is a procedure to remove one or both of the ovaries. This procedure often occurs alongside a hysterectomy.
Salpingo-oophorectomy With Hysterectomy
Salpingo-oophorectomy refers to surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes, which also can occur alongside a hysterectomy.
How Is Hysterectomy Surgery Performed?
Hysterectomy surgery is considered major surgery. Depending on the type of hysterectomy you’re having, the surgeon has a few ways to perform the procedure.
Abdominal hysterectomy is the most invasive of the surgical options for hysterectomy. This surgery involves an incision in the lower abdomen and the removal of the uterus through the incision.
For a vaginal hysterectomy, the doctor removes the uterus through the vagina. This procedure is generally considered less invasive and has a shorter, easier recovery than abdominal surgery.
Laparoscopic Or Robotic Hysterectomy
For a laparoscopic or robotic hysterectomy, the doctor makes a small incision so that she can insert a camera into the abdomen to guide the surgery. The uterus is then removed through the vagina.
Can I Have A Hysterectomy By Choice?
If you are of legal age to consent to the procedure, you can technically choose to have a hysterectomy. However, a doctor will likely counsel you to strongly consider other options if you are still of childbearing age. Once you have a hysterectomy, there’s no going back. You won’t be able to become pregnant. It’s ultimately your choice to proceed, but you should have all the information before making the decision.
Hysterectomy Recovery Tips
Hysterectomy is major surgery, regardless of which procedure you have, so the most important thing to remember is to take it slow. Don’t try to rush back to your normal activities before you’re ready!
Here’s my list for creating the smoothest recovery possible from a hysterectomy.
1. Be Gentle With Yourself
Now is the time to be kind to yourself. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help and being a little bit pampered at this time. Line up help in advance for any of your work obligations, childcare, or housework. Expect to be modifying your routine for 3 to 8 weeks depending on the type of surgery and if there were complications.. You can get back to doing all the things soon enough, but for now, get some rest.
2. Follow Your Doctor's Instructions
This may be obvious, but in case it isn’t — follow those discharge instructions. Your doctor is trained to perform these procedures and ensure you recover well. Now is not the time to go rogue. And if something comes up, don’t hesitate to call your doctor and express your concerns.
3. Consider Increasing Vitamin C, Vitamin A, And Zinc
Maybe you’ve heard me discuss how important these vitamins are for health before? Well, that’s because they are!
Maintaining optimal levels of these superstars can mean a faster recovery since vitamin C can help the immune system protect against infection and improves wound healing, zinc supports connective tissue, and vitamin A supports healthy cell growth.
While it’s crucial to get enough vitamins and minerals every day, after surgery, it’s essential. Consider a high-quality multivitamin that contains them all.
4. Support Your Adrenal Glands
Your ovaries are not the only source of sex hormones in the body. Your adrenal glands, fat cells, and other cells are still producing hormones — so it’s more important than ever to help out those adrenals.
Some of the most important things you can do for your adrenals can also be the most difficult for some women:
- Get plenty of rest, starting at a sensible early-ish time – shoot for a 10:00 pm
- Sleep in a completely dark room
- Get some sunshine during the day
- Cut out stress from your life anywhere you possibly can
- Try meditating
Your adrenal glands also respond well to herbal supplements and vitamins, especially B vitamins and adaptogens like ashwagandha. If you don’t want to go ingredient hunting, take a look at my Optimal Adrenal Kit, which combines herbs that may help the adrenals produce their natural hormones in the morning and restore them with a good night’s sleep in the evening. It’s a great start for supporting a healthy adrenal function, but you have to do your part on the lifestyle changes to really see the results you’re looking for.
5. Try Hormone Balancing Herbs
Certain herbal supplements, like black cohosh, could help relieve symptoms brought about by the drop in hormone levels due to hysterectomy.
Since your ovaries aren’t providing the hormonal surges they once were after an oophorectomy, supplementation can help fill in the gaps. Look for ingredients like chaste tree berry, calcium d-glucarate, and diindolylmethane to give your hormones a little love. My Balance – Women's Hormone Support formula contains these and several other vitamins, minerals, and herbs that help smooth the road ahead after hysterectomy and menopause.
6. Consider Bioidentical Hormones For Hysterectomy
The younger you are when you have a hysterectomy, the more important it is to consider bioidentical hormone replacement therapy after your surgery.
The sudden disappearance of plentiful amounts of reproductive hormones can put you at risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, anxiety, and depression — and hormone replacement therapy can help mitigate that risk.
A licensed healthcare provider that specializes in hormones can help you understand if this is best for you.
Consider testing and evaluating the need for replacing:
7. Seed Cycling…’Cause Now You're Postmenopausal
If you haven’t tried seed cycling yet, this could be a good time to start. These seeds will supply you with the fiber you need to support your gut health, while also delivering the nutrients you need for optimal hormones.
Seed cycling is an amazing natural way to support your body’s natural hormonal rhythms. I believe in it and practice this every month. I have an entire article devoted to the process here, but the basic premise is this:
On the new moon — start eating 1-2 tablespoons of sesame seeds and flax seeds per day (about two weeks)
On the full moon — start eating 1-2 tablespoons of pumpkin and sunflower seeds per day (about two weeks)
This process may help to support your estrogen during the first two weeks and progesterone for the second two weeks.
Just because your body isn’t cycling any more doesn’t mean you aren’t making any hormones. You just have to help the process a little more than before your hysterectomy.
Hysterectomy Recovery Setbacks
Hysterectomy is a serious surgery, and it’s common to experience some bumps in the road to recovery afterward. The good news is that these symptoms are likely to be temporary. With the tips I’ve outlined above along with communication with your doctor, you should be able to manage recovery issues.
Pain After Hysterectomy
You’re probably going to be in quite a bit of pain after surgery. If you’ve never had surgery before, a lot of women are surprised at exactly how painful it can be.
Take your doctor’s advice here and don’t try to be a hero. No one gets a badge of honor for skipping their pain medications.
However, do consider that pain medications can be constipating and that you’ve just had surgery in this region. A lot of women experience painful urination and bowel movements after hysterectomy, so it’s important to supplement with fiber and gentle laxatives to help get things moving more easily. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, and eat a hormone-balancing, fiber-rich diet.
Symptoms Of Low Estrogen After Hysterectomy
Once your ovaries are gone, estrogen production in your body will decrease. This triggers a myriad of unpleasant symptoms that you’ve likely heard peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women complain about before.
Some of these symptoms include:
- Vaginal Atrophy
- Painful Sex
- Brain Fog
- Loss Of Interest In Sex
- Mood Swings
- Hot Flashes
- Weight Gain
Again, this is why it’s so important to keep adrenal function supported, practice seed cycling, and take your herbs and/or hormones. You have to help your estrogen levels in any way you possibly can.
Grief After Hysterectomy
Many women must consider hysterectomy to help correct a medical condition that is causing them pain or endangering their life. Still, after having their reproductive organs removed, many women experience a feeling of loss for their fertility. Some find themselves contemplating a new chapter in their life that brings a lot of change and that can always trigger emotions as well.
Fluctuating hormones and several weeks of recovery don’t exactly help the situation, either.
Again — the key here is to be gentle with yourself. Take time to acknowledge your emotions, and don’t be afraid to talk to a professional about how you’re feeling.
What Are The Risks Of Hysterectomy?
Usually women undergo a hysterectomy to help end pain or save their life. However, this surgery isn’t without risks of its own.
When the ovaries and/or uterus are gone, your body’s hormone profile abruptly shifts.
The thing is, these hormones are crucial for good health. Your brain, bones, and heart are just a few of the major systems that rely on a regular influx of hormones to function optimally. While our bodies are designed to diminish these hormones at later stages in life, abruptly stopping them before your body is ready can be problematic.
Studies suggest that even hysterectomies that keep the ovaries intact leave women at a higher risk for heart disease and metabolic conditions. Not only is hysterectomy associated with a higher risk of coronary disease, but it is also a risk factor for bone loss and fractures later in life.
According to studies by the Mayo Clinic, women who undergo a hysterectomy are also at increased risk for depression and anxiety.
This points to a large gap in the research and our understanding of the uterus. Given it is the second most common surgery for women to undergo, you would think we’d have a better understanding of how your uterus interplays with your overall health.
Are There Alternatives To Hysterectomy?
Many doctors have been under the impression that hysterectomy is a routine procedure that has little long term effects for women. Now that research is showing otherwise, many believe that hysterectomy is performed too often.
Many women undergo a hysterectomy to remove fibroids or because they are misguiding in believing it will do away with endometriosis when other, less invasive procedures are often able to alleviate these conditions. In fact, in many cases, addressing estrogen dominance and introducing lifestyle changes can help manage fibroids and other conditions.
In the case of women who have a hysterectomy to correct prolapse, sometimes pelvic floor physical therapy and exercises can help turn this condition around.
Even when cancer is involved, there are often other, less radical options for surgical removal of cancerous cells that can leave the uterus and ovaries intact.
If you haven’t explored all of your other options to help manage your particular condition, it may be worth discussing with your doctor to explore other options than hysterectomy. And, when in doubt, you can always seek a second opinion.
You Can Thrive After Hysterectomy
If you’ve had a hysterectomy or are planning to have one, take heart. You will get your life back and you can thrive after this surgery.
Please just remember to be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to utilize all of these approaches to speed your recovery and help it go as smoothly as possible.
Don’t forget — I’m here for you! I know a thing or two about recovering from difficult situations myself. We’re all on this journey together.
Also, if you’re looking for a quick start to implement these diet and lifestyle changes I’ve outlined here, I’d encourage you to download my completely free hormone balancing guide that includes a ton of great recipes and education to help you get started.
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