A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the womb (uterus). You'll no longer be able to get pregnant after the operation.
If you have not already gone through the menopause, you'll no longer have periods, regardless of your age.
Many women have a hysterectomy. It's more common for women aged 40 to 50.
Hysterectomies are carried out to treat health problems that affect the female reproductive system.
- heavy periods
- long-term pelvic pain
- non-cancerous tumours (fibroids)
- ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer or cancer of the fallopian tubes
A hysterectomy is a major operation with a long recovery time and is only considered after less invasive treatments have been tried.
If you have a hysterectomy, as well as having your womb removed, you may have to decide whether to also have your cervix or ovaries removed.
Your decision will usually be based on your personal feelings, medical history and any recommendations your doctor may have.
There are various types of hysterectomy. The type you have depends on why you need the operation and how much of your womb and surrounding reproductive system can safely be left in place.
The main types of hysterectomy are:
- total hysterectomy – the womb and cervix (neck of the womb) are removed; this is the most commonly performed operation
- subtotal hysterectomy – the main body of the womb is removed, leaving the cervix in place
- total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy – the womb, cervix, fallopian tubes (salpingectomy) and ovaries (oophorectomy) are removed
- radical hysterectomy – the womb and surrounding tissues are removed, including the fallopian tubes, part of the vagina, ovaries, lymph glands and fatty tissue
There are 3 ways to carry out a hysterectomy:
- laparoscopic hysterectomy (keyhole surgery) – where the womb is removed through several small cuts in the tummy
- vaginal hysterectomy – where the womb is removed through a cut in the top of the vagina
- abdominal hysterectomy – where the womb is removed through a cut in the lower tummy
There's a small risk of complications, including:
- heavy bleeding
- damage to your bladder or bowel
- a serious reaction to the general anaesthetic
A hysterectomy is a major operation. You can be in hospital for up to 5 days after surgery, and it takes about 6 to 8 weeks to fully recover.
Recovery times can also vary depending on the type of hysterectomy.
Rest as much as possible during this time and do not lift anything heavy, such as bags of shopping. You need time for your abdominal muscles and tissues to heal.
If your ovaries are removed during a hysterectomy, you'll go through the menopause immediately after the operation, regardless of your age. This is known as a surgical menopause.
If 1 or both of your ovaries are left intact, there's a chance you'll experience the menopause within 5 years of having your operation.
If you experience a surgical menopause after having a hysterectomy, you should be offered hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
The female reproductive system is made up of the:
- womb (uterus) – a pear-shaped organ in the middle of your pelvis where a baby develops; the lining of the womb is shed during a period
- cervix – the neck of the womb, where the womb meets the vagina; the cervix is the lower part of the womb and not separate
- vagina – a muscular tube below the cervix
- fallopian tubes – tubes that connect the womb to the ovaries
- ovaries – small organs by the fallopian tubes that release an egg each month