A hysterectomy is a major surgical procedure that requires a significant recovery period. However, regardless of the type of hysterectomy you have, there are steps you can take to ensure the smoothest recovery possible. In this article, we're taking a look at seven hysterectomy recovery tips that can help you heal faster and get back to your normal routine again.
When Is a Hysterectomy Necessary?
There are a number of reasons why a hysterectomy may become necessary, but the most common reason is uterine fibroids.
While up to 80% of women will have at least some fibroids by the time they reach age 50, many will never experience symptoms. Of those who do, only a small fraction have symptoms—especially pain and heavy vaginal bleeding—bothersome enough to warrant a hysterectomy.
Other medical issues that may lead to a hysterectomy include:
- Endometriosis: This painful condition occurs when the endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus and begins to attach itself to other structures, such as the fallopian tubes or ovaries.
- Adenomyosis: Similar to endometriosis, adenomyosis occurs when the endometrial tissue ends up where it should not be. However, in the case of adenomyosis, the tissue begins to grow into the muscle wall, or myometrium, of the uterus.
- Cancer: Approximately 10% of hysterectomies are performed due to cancer of the reproductive organs.
Types of Hysterectomies and Hysterectomy Procedures
Most people think of a hysterectomy as the removal of the uterus. And while that's technically true, a woman's diagnosis, symptoms, and personal preference will dictate exactly which organs are removed.
- Partial hysterectomy: During a partial hysterectomy, the uterus is removed, but the cervix is left in place. This procedure is sometimes called a supracervical hysterectomy.
- Total hysterectomy: During a total hysterectomy, both the uterus and cervix are removed.
- Radical hysterectomy: The most extreme form of hysterectomy is the radical hysterectomy. During this procedure—which is usually reserved for advanced cases of cancer—the uterus, cervix, supporting ligaments, and upper portion of the vagina are removed.
During a total or radical hysterectomy, a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, or removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, may be performed as well.
In addition to the various types of hysterectomies, there are different ways the procedure itself may be performed.
- Vaginal hysterectomy: The least invasive of the three types of hysterectomy procedures, a vaginal hysterectomy is performed entirely through the vagina and requires no external incisions.
- Laparoscopic hysterectomy: This minimally invasive procedure is performed with the use of a lighted camera (laparoscope) inserted via the belly button and additional instruments inserted through two or three small incisions made in the lower abdomen.
- Abdominal hysterectomy: The most invasive type of hysterectomy procedure is the abdominal hysterectomy, which is performed via a vertical or horizontal incision in the lower abdomen.
Potential Hysterectomy Complications
A hysterectomy is a very common type of surgery and is generally considered quite safe. However, as with all procedures, complications may occur. These include:
- Anesthetic reaction
- Heavy bleeding (hemorrhage)
- Damage to bowel or bladder
- Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot)
Menopausal Symptoms After Hysterectomy
Many women who undergo a hysterectomy experience symptoms of menopause afterward. Unfortunately, this is true even if the ovaries are left intact.
The ovaries receive part of their blood supply via the uterus. When the uterus is removed, their blood supply becomes compromised, and there's a risk the ovaries could fail within 5 years.
Symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Discomfort with sexual intercourse
7 Hysterectomy Recovery Tips
Recovery time following a hysterectomy is affected by many factors, including overall health and the type of approach used for the surgery.
While women who undergo a vaginal hysterectomy may be back to their normal activities in as little as 2 weeks, women who have a laparoscopic or abdominal hysterectomy may be looking at a recovery period that lasts 2 to 4 times as long.
But regardless of the type of hysterectomy, there are steps every woman can take to limit the side effects of surgery and speed up recovery time.
1. Get Plenty of Rest
One of the most important things you can do after any surgery is rest. Proper sleep is especially important because the body uses the time you're not awake to repair and restore itself to healthy function. It's also the time when hormones are balanced and the immune system gets a boost. So, after a hysterectomy, be sure to get plenty of sleep. It will help you heal faster, protect you from infection, assist you in coping better with hormonal fluctuations, and even lift your mood.
2. Prevent Constipation
With any surgery comes the added risk of constipation. Changes in food and fluid intake, decreased physical activity, and side effects from both anesthesia and narcotic pain medications all play a part.
While minor bouts of constipation are generally nothing more than a nuisance, severe constipation after surgery can lead to excessive straining, which may damage incisions.
But postoperative constipation can be reduced or even avoided by following a few simple steps.
- Drink lots of fluids. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day—more when taking narcotic pain medicines.
- Up your fiber intake. Eat plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and take fiber supplements.
- Eat multiple small meals. Eating four to six smaller meals throughout the day can help keep your system primed and functioning normally.
- Balance your microbiome. Taking a probiotic supplement and eating more yogurt and other probiotic-rich foods can help keep your GI tract in balance and bowel movements soft and regular.
- Start walking. While vigorous exercise should be avoided after a hysterectomy, taking regular walks can help get your GI tract moving again. Plus, it's a great way to boost mood and regain your energy.
- Use a stool softener. Physicians often prescribe stool softeners after surgery to help patients avoid straining. When taken regularly, they may help head off constipation before it starts. And, when more help is needed, they can be used with over-the-counter laxatives.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
Like rest, your body needs plenty of nutrient-rich whole foods to support the processes that keep your tissues and organs functioning normally. So try to limit your intake of processed foods and instead focus on eating a diet that emphasizes lean protein, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains.
4. Take Amino Acids
While whole foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, they're also a source of protein-building amino acids. These building blocks of life are needed by the body for almost every biological process.
It should come as no surprise, then, that providing the body with an ample supply of amino acids can actually shorten the time it takes to recover from surgery. However, as with most things, balance is key.
So if you decide to supplement with amino acids after a hysterectomy, be sure to look for a formula that offers a balanced ratio of all nine essential amino acids.
5. Wear Loose-Fitting Clothing
If you had a penchant for tight-fitting clothing prior to undergoing a laparoscopic or abdominal hysterectomy, you need to think about putting that particular love on hold for a while.
Although it may seem obvious, to ensure your incisions heal properly, you need to keep the pressure off and allow air to circulate. So instead of tight jeans and skirts, opt for comfy, loose-fitting clothes.
6. Properly Care for Wounds
If you have a laparoscopic or abdominal hysterectomy, your health care provider will discuss how to properly care for your wounds following surgery, so be sure to follow their instructions closely. And don't hesitate to contact them if you notice increased pain, redness, swelling, or discharge around any of your incisions.
7. Be Patient with Yourself
For many women, having a hysterectomy is more than just your average surgery. While it's the second most common surgery in women after cesarean section, the hormonal changes that come with a hysterectomy that includes removal of the ovaries can be intense.
The circumstances under which a hysterectomy with ovarian removal is performed can also affect a woman's response after surgery.
A woman who undergoes a hysterectomy to stop pain and menstrual periods so heavy they led to an inability to leave the house and anemia may feel such a huge sense of relief after surgery that any symptoms of menopause are negligible.
But a woman who's had her uterus and ovaries removed as a result of cancer may instead feel a profound sense of loss that only amplifies her menopausal symptoms.
While it can be helpful to keep in mind that any menopausal symptoms you're going through will fade in time—and that you'll soon adjust to life after menstrual cycles—if you're experiencing symptoms of depression or other difficulties that seem to be getting worse instead of better, don't hesitate to speak with your health care provider.