What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

During abdominal hysterectomy, your surgeon detaches your uterus from the ovaries, fallopian tubes and upper vagina, as well as from the blood vessels and connective tissue that support it. The lower part of your uterus (cervix) is usually removed (total hysterectomy) but may sometimes be left in place (partial hysterectomy). If necessary, your surgeon may remove additional pelvic organs and tissue, such as your ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Before the hysterectomy

Before surgery, you may have tests done to check for cancer, which could change your surgeon's approach to surgery. Tests may include:

  • Pap test, which detects the presence of abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer
  • Endometrial biopsy, which detects abnormal cells in the uterine lining or endometrial cancer
  • Pelvic ultrasound, which may show the size of uterine fibroids, endometrial polyps or ovarian cysts

The day before your surgery, you may be instructed to take a medication or drink a solution to empty your digestive tract to prepare for surgery. A preoperative cleansing of your vagina (vaginal douche) may be done to reduce your risk of infection. Immediately before surgery, you'll also be given an intravenous antibiotic medication to minimize your risk of infection after the procedure.

During the hysterectomy

A hysterectomy typically is performed under general anesthesia, so you won't be awake during the surgery. The procedure itself lasts about one to two hours, although you'll spend some time beforehand getting ready to go into the operating room.

To begin the procedure, a member of your surgical team passes a urinary catheter through your urethra to empty your bladder. The catheter remains in place during surgery and for a short time afterward. Your abdomen and vagina are cleaned with a sterile solution before surgery.

To perform the hysterectomy, your surgeon makes a cut (incision) in your lower abdomen, using one of two approaches:

  • A vertical incision, which starts in the middle of your abdomen and extends from just below your navel to just above your pubic bone
  • A horizontal bikini-line incision, which lies about an inch above your pubic bone

The type of incision depends on many factors, including the reason for your hysterectomy, the need to explore the upper abdomen, the size of your uterus and the presence of any scars from prior abdominal surgeries. For instance, hysterectomies performed for endometriosis, large fibroids and gynecologic cancers are done mainly through a vertical incision.

After the hysterectomy

After surgery, you'll remain in the recovery room for a few hours. Your health care team will:

  • Monitor you for signs of pain
  • Give you medicine for pain and to prevent infection
  • Encourage you to get up and walk around soon after surgery

Abdominal hysterectomy usually requires a hospital stay of one to two days, but it could be longer. You'll need to use sanitary pads for vaginal bleeding and discharge. It's normal to have bloody vaginal drainage for several days to weeks after a hysterectomy. However, let your surgeon know if you have bleeding that's as heavy as a menstrual period.

The abdominal incision will gradually heal, but a visible scar on your abdomen will remain.

Recovering from a hysterectomy

It takes time to get back to your usual self after an abdominal hysterectomy — about six weeks for most women. During that time:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Don't lift anything heavy for a full six weeks after the operation.
  • Stay active after your surgery, but avoid strenuous physical activity for the first six weeks.
  • Wait six weeks to resume sexual activity.
  • Follow your doctor's recommendations about returning to your other normal activities.

Life after a hysterectomy

A hysterectomy permanently changes some aspects of your life. For instance:

  • You'll no longer have menstrual periods.
  • Most of the time, you'll get relief from the symptoms that made your surgery necessary.
  • You won't be able to become pregnant.
  • If you're premenopausal, having your ovaries removed along with hysterectomy starts menopause.
  • If you have a hysterectomy before menopause and you keep your ovaries, you may experience menopause at a younger than average age.
  • If you have a partial hysterectomy, your cervix remains in place, so you're still at risk of cervical cancer. You need regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.

Other parts of your life will likely return to normal or perhaps improve once you've recovered from your hysterectomy. For example:

  • If you had a good sex life before hysterectomy, chances are you'll maintain it afterward. Some women even experience more sexual pleasure after hysterectomy. This may be due to relief from the chronic pain or heavy bleeding that was caused by a uterine problem.
  • The relief of symptoms may greatly enhance your quality of life. You may have an improved sense of well-being and a chance to get on with your life.

On the other hand, you may feel a sense of loss after hysterectomy. Premenopausal women who must have a hysterectomy to treat gynecological cancer may experience grief and possibly depression over the loss of fertility. If sadness or negative feelings begin to interfere with your enjoyment of everyday life, talk with your doctor.

Dec. 11, 2012