Each year in the United States, more than 600,000 women undergo hysterectomies, making it the second most commonly performed surgery for women. While we primarily think of hysterectomies as a form of birth control, the procedure has many uses and offers a wide range of health benefits. These include helping to mitigate the uncomfortable symptoms of common uterine conditions, including excessive menstrual bleeding, fibroids, and endometriosis. 

In this article, we’ll go over what a hysterectomy is, how doctors perform this procedure, and the pain-relieving benefits it offers women who suffer from reproductive conditions.

What is a Hysterectomy?

A bare-bellied woman points towards the lateral scar on her abdomen left from a hysterectomy A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure for women that removes all or parts of the uterus. However, to better understand the procedure itself, let’s first take a look at how the female reproductive anatomy functions and some of the issues that can arise within it.

At the top of the vagina is the cervix, a shallow canal that connects the uterus to the vagina. As women prepare to give birth, the cervix expands to allow the baby to pass from the uterus into the vagina or birth canal. The uterus itself is a pear-shaped organ that sits above the cervix and is where the body nurtures newly fertilized eggs into fetuses. At about three inches long and two inches wide, the uterus begins small and expands during pregnancy to accommodate the growth of the child. 

Above the uterus is a Y-shaped set of fallopian tubes that lead to the ovaries. The ovaries are the starting point for reproduction, where a woman’s eggs develop and are released into the uterus. Once released, eggs flow down these fallopian tubes and into the uterus, where they await fertilization by sperm. If and when the egg becomes fertilized, it implants on the side of the uterus and begins to grow into a fetus.

Issues within the reproductive system can arise at any point during this complex process, causing severe pain and discomfort, along with complications that prevent or restrict a woman’s ability to become pregnant. From cancer to endometriosis, the conditions that can occur within the reproductive system are wide-ranging, bringing an assortment of uncomfortable symptoms that can decrease a woman’s quality of life. 

For many women, a hysterectomy presents a safe and effective solution for these reproductive issues and can help women get their lives back on track, free from discomfort.


Why Would a Woman Need a Hysterectomy?

Choosing to undergo a hysterectomy is a major life decision. However, when you have to choose between living in pain or accessing long-lasting relief, the decision to receive a hysterectomy is often simple.

The procedure offers a wide range of health benefits for women who suffer from these common conditions:

  • Abnormal Bleeding (irregular or extremely heavy periods)
  • Adenomyosis (thickening of the uterine walls that causes pain and heavy bleeding)
  • Cancer 
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Endometriosis (the growth of uterine tissue outside of the uterus, accompanied by severe pain and cramping)
  • Hyperplasia (thickening of the uterine walls caused by excess estrogen)
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease/PID (a bacterial infection within the reproductive tract)
  • Placenta Accreta (the growth of placental tissue within the uterine walls)
  • Uterine Fibroids (non-cancerous but abnormal tissue growth in the uterus)
  • Uterine Prolapse (when the uterus slips from its normal position and falls into the vagina)

For patients with these conditions, a hysterectomy is often the most effective and safest solution. However, there are several other surgical options that can alleviate these symptoms. If you’re struggling with any of these issues, speak with your doctor—they will help you decide the best option for your needs.

Are There Different Types of Hysterectomy Surgeries?

Yes, there are several types of hysterectomy procedures that differ in their surgical approaches and how they remove the reproductive organs.

The three most common forms of hysterectomy include:

  1. Subtotal/Supracervical Hysterectomy – the surgical removal of the upper portion of the uterus, while keeping the cervix in place
  2. Total Hysterectomy – the removal of the entire cervix and uterus
  3. Radical Hysterectomy – removal of the entire uterus, cervix, and upper portion of the vagina

In addition to a hysterectomy, a surgeon may also remove the ovaries in a procedure known as an oophorectomy. Alternatively, the tubes connecting to the ovaries may be removed with a salpingectomy. If your doctor has to remove the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, the procedure is called a hysterectomy and bilateral salpingectomy-oophorectomy.

Within the multiple types of hysterectomy are two surgical approaches, which differentiate in terms of how doctors access the organs: 

  • Traditional Open Surgery
  • Minimally Invasive Surgery

The most common approach used for hysterectomies is traditional open surgery. During this procedure, the surgeon makes a five-to-seven-inch incision in the belly to access the reproductive health organs and remove them. 

By contrast, minimally invasive procedures incise one or two small cuts and use delicate surgical tools and cameras to guide precise cuts within the body. For example, a laparoscopic hysterectomy involves a small tube (a laparoscope) with a lighted camera to look inside the body.

Uterine and other tissues are extracted using procedures that minimize blood loss and improve recovery time. For example, a vaginal hysterectomy makes a small cut in the vagina to reach the uterus and remove it. Laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomy incorporates a laparoscope to remove the uterus or other tissue through the vagina. A robotically assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy involves advanced technology to guide the doctor while they perform the procedure.

What Is Recovery Like After a Hysterectomy?

A hysterectomy is one of the safest and most commonly performed procedures in medicine today. However, it is still a major surgery and comes with its own set of risks, as well as an extended recovery time.

For patients who undergo traditional open surgery, the procedure and initial recovery period will take place within a hospital and last two to three days. By contrast, a minimally invasive procedure may have a shorter hospital stay, a lower risk of infection and blood loss, and less pain and scarring. With minimally invasive surgeries, you can generally return to normal activities within a month, while an open surgery may take up to six weeks. 

While minimally invasive procedures offer greater benefits than traditional surgery, not all patients are eligible for these surgeries.

Is a hysterectomy right for you?

At Women First of Louisville, our doctors work closely with patients to find solutions that work for them, providing the individualized reproductive care each patient needs to stay healthy and feel their best. Request an appointment with one of our providers to learn more.

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