The Scariest Article You'll Ever Read About Your Ladyparts
What Every Woman Must Know About Hysterectomies
For years, hysterectomy (the removal of the uterus and cervix, and sometimes the ovaries) was the main fix for noncancerous disorders such as uterine prolapse and menorraghia. But it wasn't always a perfect fix. First off, it is major surgery — and sometimes creates other, more severe problems. "When you take away the uterus, you take away support for other organs like the bladder, so eventually they can start to prolapse," says Mary Pat FitzGerald, M.D., an expert in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, IL. And total hysterectomy, a term for the removal of both the ovaries and the uterus, causes menopause right away, whether you're 30 or 50. The surgery can also be symbolic of a greater sacrifice. "Losing your female organs can produce feelings of loss, because for some women they represent part of their femininity," FitzGerald says.
Thankfully, today there are alternatives to hysterectomy that are far less invasive. Uterine prolapse can be repaired laparoscopically through a small incision in the vagina or abdomen, for instance, by means of a supportive mesh that resuspends the uterus, leaving it intact. Symptoms of menorraghia can be significantly reduced by hormones or by ablation, in which only the lining of the uterus is removed. Still, this isn't to say that hysterectomy is always a bad thing, FitzGerald says. Most women who have menorraghia and choose the Pill or ablation still menstruate (though not as heavily as before), for instance. If you have a few years before you reach menopause and want to be period-free now, a total hysterectomy may be right for you, FitzGerald says. And like other minimally invasive surgical procedures, hysterectomy is often done laparoscopically now too: Surgeons remove the uterus through the vagina rather than through the abdominal wall. Ask your doctor about all the available options — and don't be afraid to ask questions until you're sure you've chosen the right procedure for you.