What is a hysterectomy?
A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure whereby the uterus (womb) is removed. Hysterectomy is the most common non-obstetrical procedure of women in the United States.
Why is a hysterectomy performed?
The most common reason hysterectomy is performed is for uterine fibroids The next most common reasons are abnormal uterine bleeding, endometriosis, and uterine prolapse (including pelvic relaxation). Only 10% of hysterectomy is performed for cancer. This article will primarily focus on the use of hysterectomy for non-cancerous, non-emergency reasons, which can involve even more challenging decisions for women and their doctors.
Uterine fibroids (also known as uterine leiomyomata) are by far the most common reason a hysterectomy is performed. Uterine fibroids are benign growths of the uterus, the cause of which is unknown. Although they are benign, meaning they do not cause or turn into cancer, uterine fibroids can cause medical problems, such as excessive bleeding, for which hysterectomy is sometimes recommended. Pelvic relaxation is another condition that can require treatment with a hysterectomy. In this condition, a woman experiences a loosening of the support muscles and tissues in the pelvic area. This loosening can lead to symptoms such as urinary incontinence (unintentional loss of urine) and impaired sexual performance. The urine loss tends to be aggravated by sneezing, coughing, or laughing. Childbearing is probably involved in increasing the risk for pelvic relaxation, though the exact reasons for this remain unclear.
A hysterectomy is also performed to treat cancer of the uterus or very severe pre-cancers (called dysplasia). A hysterectomy for uterine cancer has an obvious purpose, that of removal of the cancer from the body. This procedure is the foundation of treatment for cancer of the uterus.
What tests or treatments are performed prior to a hysterectomy? Prior to having a hysterectomy for pelvic pain, women usually undergo more limited (less extensive) exploratory surgery procedures (such as laparoscopy) to rule out other causes of pain. Prior to having a hysterectomy for abnormal uterine bleeding, women require some type of sampling of the lining of the uterus (biopsy of the endometrium) to rule out cancer or pre-cancer of the uterus. This procedure is called endometrial sampling. In a woman with pelvic pain or bleeding, a trial of medication treatment is often given before a hysterectomy is considered.
Therefore, a premenopausal (still having regular menstrual periods) woman whose uterine fibroids are causing bleeding but no pain is generally first offered medical therapy with hormones. If she still has significant bleeding that causes major impairment to her daily life, or the bleeding continues to cause anemia (low red blood cell count due to blood loss), and she has no abnormality on endometrial sampling, she may be considered for a hysterectomy.
A postmenopausal woman (whose menstrual periods have ceased permanently) who has no abnormalities in the samples of her uterus (endometrial sampling) and still has persistent, abnormal bleeding after trying hormone therapy may be considered for a hysterectomy. Several dose adjustments or different types of hormones may be required to decide on the optimal medical treatment for an individual woman
How is a hysterectomy performed?
Most commonly, a hysterectomy is done by an incision (cut) through the abdomen (abdominal hysterectomy) or through the vagina (vaginal hysterectomy). The hospital stay generally tends to be longer with an abdominal hysterectomy than with a vaginal hysterectomy (4 vs. 6 days on average) and hospital charges tend to be higher. The procedures seem to take comparable lengths of time (about 2 hours), unless the uterus is of a very large size, in which case a vaginal hysterectomy may take longer.
What are the types of hysterectomies?
There are now a...