As with any other major surgery, there are some short-term and long-term side effects associated with hysterectomy. This may vary from person to person.
Possible side effects depend on a number of things such as age, pre-existing health conditions, whether you are still having periods and the type of hysterectomy done.
During the surgery, the surgeon removes the uterus and, if necessary, other parts of the reproductive system such as ovary. This puts an end to a woman’s ability to have children. Some women decide to pursue alternative methods to treat their gynecological issues in an effort to avoid or delay a hysterectomy.
As a treatment for noncancerous uterine conditions like uterine fibroid, hysterectomy often improves the quality of life for most women. This is often – due to the fact that painful symptoms are generally eliminated by hysterectomy. However, though uncommonly, some women feel worse following surgery and regret the decision to have an elective hysterectomy.
Some common side effects of hysterectomy
The most common surgical method is the abdominal hysterectomy. Abdominal hysterectomy is done through a large incision or cuts in the abdomen. Abdominal hysterectomy is commonly indicated for the treatment of gynecological cancers or when the uterus is significantly enlarged and is unable to be safely removed through a minimally invasive approach. This process takes a long time to recover because of the stitches.
But there are some common short-term side effects that can happen immediately after or a few weeks after a hysterectomy. Usually, they are temporary. Short-term side effects of hysterectomy include:
- Pain and bleeding
- Bladder problems
- Decreased sexual desire
- Vaginal vault prolapse
- blood clots in the legs or in the lungs
Short-term bladder problems may include losing the feeling of having to urinate or not being able to empty the bladder completely. Some women also may develop long-term bladder problems.
Long-term side effects can develop months or years after having a hysterectomy and can last long. If you have a hysterectomy, you will be infertile (not able to become pregnant) because your uterus has been removed. You may also experience:
- a buildup of lymph fluid in the legs or abdomen if lymph nodes in the pelvis are removed (called lymphedema)
- a weakness of the muscles and ligaments that support the vagina, bladder, and rectum
- vaginal shortening (may occur after a radical hysterectomy)
- blockage of the intestine caused by bands of scar tissue
- treatment-induced menopause in premenopausal women, if the ovaries have been removed
Side effects of Vaginal Hysterectomy
Vaginal hysterectomy is the process to remove the uterus through your vagina. All women who receive a hysterectomy will cease having periods. However, this is not menopause. Although vaginal hysterectomy is safe, all surgeries have risks. Risks of vaginal hysterectomy include:
- Heavy bleeding
- Blood clots in the legs or lungs
- Damage to surrounding organs
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
Long term, you may also face an increased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases. There is also the certainty of metabolic conditions after vaginal hysterectomy especially if you have the surgery before 35. Talk to the doctor about treatment options to see if there are alternatives for your condition.
Side effects of Laparoscopic Hysterectomy
The procedure allows a surgeon to remove the uterus vaginally while being able to see your pelvic organs through a slender viewing instrument known as a laparoscope. Your surgeon performs most of the procedure through small abdominal incisions aided by long, thin surgical instruments inserted through the incision. Your surgeon then removes the uterus through an incision made in your vagina.
You may experience some physical and emotional side effects:
- Heavy bleeding for a few days
- Complete recovery might take 2-3 weeks
- Sense of loss and grief
- Depression due to loss of fertility, especially for young ones
Will a hysterectomy affect sex life?
Although many women do not experience sexual problems after a hysterectomy, some do experience complications. These may include:
Loss of sex drive:
- If the ovaries are removed, a woman may experience a reduced libido as this will cause a lack of estrogen. Estrogen levels decrease because of menopause, which can lead to thinning of the vaginal tissues. Thinning tissues may make some sexual activity painful.
Pelvic floor weakness:
- Doing pelvic floor exercises can strengthen the muscles after surgery, improving sex and reducing the risk of incontinence.
- Some women experience vaginal dryness after having a hysterectomy. Sometimes, a woman’s sex drive may lower, due to a change in hormone levels. This can often be managed with an over-the-counter lubricant or natural alternative, such as coconut oil.
Change in sexual sensation:
- Some women complain about a reduction in sensation inside their vagina during sex. This does not have to negatively affect a woman’s ability to orgasm, as the clitoris and labia are still highly sensitive. However, it may mean changing positions and techniques to find what feels right after surgery.
If you do experience a loss of sexual desire or low libido post-hysterectomy, talk to your partner and consult a doctor about a possible solution.
What happens if the ovaries are removed too?
For premenopausal women, it puts the body directly into menopause which may cause uncomfortable symptoms and other side effects. Risks immediately after surgery can be:
- Bleeding or infection
- Scar tissue formation, especially in case of abdominal surgery which can be painful
- Intestinal blockage or injury to internal organs
Following side effects may occur in days or weeks:
- Change in the digestive system, lack of appetite
- Start of menopausal symptoms related to the loss of estrogens, such as intense hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness or irritation
- Joint muscle pain
- Unwanted weight gain
- Chest pain or heart palpitations
- Difficulty controlling the urge to urinate
- Anxiety, depression and mood swings
The doctor may recommend replacement therapy or another type of medication to relieve your symptoms. If you find that they cause side effects too, you may want to ask a healthcare provider for a better solution.
Precautions after a hysterectomy that might overcome side effects
- Rest – try to rest as much as possible for at least two weeks. You should avoid driving during this time. Always rest lying down
- Exercise – continue with the exercises you were shown in the hospital. Go for a walk each day, as advised by your doctor
- Standing – avoid standing for more than a few minutes at a time just after the surgery. You can increase standing time as your recovery progresses.
- Lifting – avoid heavy lifting and stretching
- Constipation – to avoid constipation, drink plenty of fluids and eat fresh fruits and vegetables. You may be advised to take stool softeners for the first few days
- Medication – if you have been prescribed antibiotics, make sure you take the full course, even if you feel well
- Sex – it is advised that you avoid vaginal sex until after the post-operative check (about four to six weeks after the operation) to make sure the vagina is fully healed. If vaginal dryness is a problem, it may be helpful to use a lubricant, or sweet almond oil or olive oil.
Laparoscopic hysterectomy surgery is better in comparison to traditional surgery. Following a few basic instructions can ensure that you have no unnecessary complications after the surgery. So consult your doctor, get an appointment and make your decision.