You may have heard the term “hysterectomy” before, but aren't sure exactly what it means. Perhaps you heard that a woman you know got a hysterectomy after having a baby or in response to a reproductive disorder and are curious about the details. Maybe a healthcare professional has even suggested it to you, and you want to make sure you have all your facts before making a decision.
What is a hysterectomy?
A hysterectomy is an operation in which part or all of a woman's reproductive system is surgically removed. This is different from a tubal ligation (having one's tubes tied) or an endoscopy (a surgical exploration of the abdomen). In a partial hysterectomy, the uterus (womb) is removed, leaving the cervix and ovaries intact. In a full hysterectomy, the cervix is also removed. A full hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is the removal of all of the reproductive organs – the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.
What are the reasons for having one?
A hysterectomy can serve several purposes. It can be a form of birth control, as the removal of the reproductive organs will prevent pregnancy. It can also be used to treat reproductive disorders such as endometriosis – a sometimes painful condition in which reproductive materials remain inside the body after menstruation. Occasionally, a hysterectomy is a medical last resort when a woman's reproductive organs have become badly infected or otherwise damaged, as in the case of endometrial cancer.
What are the results of a hysterectomy?
Roughly half of the women who undergo a partial hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), will experience hormonal changes, as the entire reproductive system can be affected by the removal of just one part. A full hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is expected to bring about hormonal changes in the body, as the removal of one or both ovaries will severely impact the production and release of the body's hormones. To counteract this, many women are put on hormone therapy, in which they take synthetic replacement hormones.
Does having a hysterectomy affect sex?
Women who have had a hysterectomy can experience a loss of sexual satisfaction, but this isn't a common response (less than 10%). For women who have been experiencing reproductive disorders, the removal of the uterus can actually improve sexual arousal, as pain is no longer present. In most cases, a hysterectomy is an extreme surgery that is performed when other, less drastic options aren't available. In these cases, the risk of the loss of sexual satisfaction may be worthwhile. However, this is subjective and up to the woman herself.
My doctor says hysterectomy is an option for me. Should I have a hysterectomy?
Generally speaking, hysterectomy should only be considered after other less-invasive options have been tried. In some acute cases of infection or damage, it may be necessary to perform the operation right away, but in most situations it's advisable to get a second opinion. Only you can decide whether this option is right for you, but to make an informed decision you should rely on the advice of one or more healthcare professionals who are aware of your specific situation.