What Is A Hysterectomy?

Can You Explain A Hysterectomy?

It is a surgery to remove a woman's womb (also called the uterus). The uterus is where a baby grows during pregnancy. If the womb is removed you will no longer have periods and you cannot become pregnant. The hysterectomy procedure can be done in a few ways, but basically the womb is either removed through an incision in the tummy (picture) or through the vagina (picture). There are different names for the various types of hysterectomies - all procedures involve removing the womb, but they vary thereafter by what else is removed. Some women also have their cervix removed, or they may also have one or both fallopian tubes and ovaries removed (the techie terms are at the bottom of the page). If the ovaries are taken out, the woman immediately hits menopause - literally overnight, even if she is only in her 20s (sometimes referred to as premature menopause). This means she may experience menopause symptoms like hot flashes, depression, menopause skin problems and menopause weight gain.

The womb is removed (supracervical hysterectomy)

About 600,000 hysterectomy operations are performed every year in the United States and about 75,000 in the UK. It is the most frequently performed operation after cesarean sections. In fact, one third of all American women will have their womb removed by the time they turn 60. The very frequency with which surgeons appear to cut out a woman's womb has lead to a growing concern that many hysterectomies are in fact unjustified. One recent large-scale study showed that as many as 15 percent may be unnecessary. For this reason, if you have been recommended the surgery, always get a second opinion and discuss the alternatives to hysterectomy with your doctor. You want to be sure that he has exhausted all other options before resorting to surgery. Although hysterectomy is considered a safe operation, it is still a major procedure and as such carries risks with it. Some of the serious complications of hysterectomy include life threatening blood clots, hemorrhage risks, infections and long-term recurrent urinary tract infections.

The Top Reasons Why Hysterectomies Are Done

1. Fibroids that do not respond to conventional therapy (30 percent are performed for this reason). See picture.
2. Endometriosis, a painful condition where cells from the womb can grow on different organs like the ovaries (20 percent).
3. Abnormal or heavy periods that have no identifiable cause (20 percent).
4. Uterine prolapse (dropped womb).
5. Chronic pelvic pain, caused by conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and pelvic adhesions.
6. Gynecologic cancers such as ovarian cancer, cervical cancer or endometrial cancer.

The Techie Terms

Complete or total hysterectomy: The uterus plus the cervix (opening to the vagina) is taken out. This is the most common procedure.
Supracervical (also called partial or subtotal) hysterectomy: Just the uterus is removed. Some doctors prefer to leave the cervix if it's healthy because studies show it is connected to sexual arousal.
Radical hysterectomy: The uterus, cervix and surrounding tissues are removed. More common in cancer cases.
Hysterectomy with removal or fallopian tubes and ovaries: Removal of the fallopian tubes is called a salpingectomy and removal of the ovaries is called an oophorectomy.

Related Questions
See our article on hysterectomy side effects as well as how menopause affects the body.

• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions or Guide To Hysterectomy

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