A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of a woman’s uterus. There are many reasons for a hysterectomy: This aggressive treatment can be life-saving if a woman has cervical, uterine, endometrial, or ovarian cancer. Other reasons for hysterectomies include: pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometriosis, uterine fibroids, pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding, and prolapse of the uterus (when the uterus slips down to the vagina).
There are three types of this procedure:
- A partial
hysterectomy removes the upper part of the uterus along with the fallopian
- A total hysterectomy involves removing the entire
uterus along with the cervix and fallopian tubes.
- A radical hysterectomy removes the uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix, along with tissues surrounding the area that include lymph nodes and perhaps one (or both) of the ovaries. A radical hysterectomy is the most aggressive procedure and can be the best option when a woman has invasive cancer.
While hysterectomies can be a life-saving treatment, it is important to remember that it is an extreme procedure. And while the rates of hysterectomies are actually quite high (one-third of American women will undergo this surgery by age 60, and it is estimated that more than 20 million women have undergone a hysterectomy since its inception), it is a procedure that does come with some serious side effects. Surprisingly, almost 90% of hysterectomies that are performed in this country are elective, meaning that they might not be medically imperative but rather viewed as a “quick fix” in some cases. Many medical professionals are now urging that people no longer view this procedure as elective but only undergo it if it is a necessity.
There are many reasons for this growing hesitation about hysterectomies. The main reason is that once a woman’s uterus is removed, her entire body will be affected. She might feel different emotionally, physically, and, of course, sexually. If a woman has her ovaries removed, she will be forced into what is known as a surgical menopause, meaning that she might begin to experience severe menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, weight gain, decreased libido, and vaginal dryness. The symptoms of surgical menopause can be more severe and long-lasting than the symptoms of natural menopause.
However, this does not mean that a hysterectomy isn’t the right option for treatment. In some cases, a hysterectomy can not only save a woman’s life and improve her health, but it can actually improve her sex life and her relationship. This is because conditions like endometriosis and uterine fibroids can be quite debilitating and painful, and once treated, a woman can once again return to her usual self. The bottom line is that you have to research all your options and talk to your doctor to decide what is best for you.