Did you know that 33 percent of American women will have had a hysterectomy by age 60? (It's the second most common surgery among women after cesarean-section deliveries.)
While it's rarer to need a hysterectomy after age 60, it's still possible. Since it can take such a toll on a woman's body and emotionally too, it's a good idea to understand what to expect in the recovery stage.
When women over age 60 need hysterectomies, the most common reasons are:
- Uterine prolapse - This occurs when the uterus protrudes out of the vagina due to weakened pelvic floor muscles and ligaments. It's common in postmenopausal women who have had one or more vaginal deliveries. A surgeon may recommend a hysterectomy if non-surgical treatments have not been successful.
- Cancer - Since the risk for cancer increases with age, a hysterectomy may be needed if a woman has cancer of the uterus, ovaries, cervix or endometrium.
- Persistent fibroid tumors - A surgeon may recommend a hysterectomy as a precaution in case the reappearing tumors are precancerous, but this would be a rare circumstance.
What is a hysterectomy, and what are its long-term effects?
A hysterectomy involves the removal of all or part of a woman's uterus, or the "womb," and it may or may not include the removal of the cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes. It's important to have a thorough conversation with your doctor about all available treatment options (both surgical and nonsurgical) and the implications of each.
One important question to ask your physician is whether your ovaries will be removed. You have likely already gone through menopause, but some surgeons believe the ovaries still produce a small amount of estrogen even after menopause ends, which can help with sexual function.
What happens after a hysterectomy?
Immediately after your surgery, you will have some pain that will be managed with medication. You will be encouraged to get up and walk as soon as you're able to help prevent blood clots in your legs. You will likely have to urinate through a catheter. Initially, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Temporary problems urinating
- Bloody vaginal draining that could last several weeks (This should not be as heavy as a regular period.)
- Depression or feeling a sense of loss
When you can go home will depend upon what kind of surgery you had.
- Abdominal hysterectomy - This procedure has the greatest risk for complications. You will likely be in the hospital for two to three days, and it can take up to four to six weeks to fully recover.
- Vaginal hysterectomy - With this procedure, women may spend one night in the hospital or even go home the same day. It can take three to four weeks to recover.
- Laparoscopic or robotic hysterectomy - This procedure is the least invasive option and can take two to four weeks to recover.
Once home, it's important to keep watch for signs of infection, which can include:
- Fever or chills
- Heavy bleeding
- Severe pain
- Redness or discharge from the incision site
- Urination or bowel movement issues
- Shortness of breath or chest pain.
You will need to avoid heavy lifting and sex for the first six weeks to allow your body time to recover.
Talk to your gynecologist
If you're experiencing heavy bleeding, abdominal pain or other worrying symptoms,
talk to your gynecologist
about your concerns and treatment options. With the proper treatment, whether surgical or non-surgical, women typically go on to live happy, pain-free lives.