Hysterectomy | Glengarry Private Hospital
Hysterectomy is an operation to remove the womb (uterus). It is done for many different medical reasons. Common reasons for a hysterectomy include heavy and/or irregular periods, painful periods, fibroids, adenomyosis, endometriosis, pelvic pain, prolapse, and cancer of the ovaries, womb or cervix. Less commonly, an emergency hysterectomy is performed after problems with uncontrollable bleeding in pregnancy or childbirth.
Hysterectomy, no matter which type, is a major operation, with significant risks & recovery needed. Many women will try some other treatment or treatments first before resorting to this major surgery. However, once a positive decision to have a hysterectomy has been made, the vast majority of women do very well, albeit after a period of physical recovery & emotional adjustment. Even though most hysterectomies are completed using keyhole methods, recovery takes several weeks-months.
Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should do your own research. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner. For instance, your GP’s opinion will be very helpful. With an operation with as much potential impact as a hysterectomy, another perspective is very valuable,
Vaginal hysterectomy | VH
This route is most commonly used when there is a co-existing prolapse. Vaginal hysterectomy offers the fastest recovery time and is associated with the fewest complications (in straightforward cases). It is often combined with a vaginal repair if the front or back of the vagina is weak/prolapsed also. Access to remove the ovaries can sometimes be difficult through the vagina – so this is when we do a LAVH or a TLH.
Laparoscopic-assisted hysterectomy | LAVH
We may do a laparoscopic hysterectomy rather than a standard vaginal hysterectomy for various reasons. They include if the patient has had several C-sections before, has known endometriosis or adhesions or other pelvic pathology, or wishes to be certain of removing the tubes or ovaries. Like VH, LAVH is particularly used when a vaginal repair is performed at the same time.
Total laparoscopic hysterectomy | TLH
This is our most commonly performed method. A TLH is a good option if there is poor vaginal access ie. no previous vaginal births and the vagina is narrow, making access difficult. It is technically easier (& hence safer) than VH or LAVH in this circumstance . There is slightly more risk of damage to the bladder or ureter with this technique (this damage is still rare though). TLH also leads to less strength at the top of the vagina than VH or LAVH – we don’t know the reason for this. So, there is a greater risk of future prolapse compared with VH or LAVH.
Laparoscopic subtotal hysterectomy | LaSH
This is where the cervix is left in the body. The uterus has to be both cut up within the body & then removed in a special bag. There are some benefits & some downsides compared with total hysterectomy, and these depend upon the individual patient. Overall, recovery is quicker than TLH. LaSH is a good choice for women with a tendency to constipation as a full hysterectomy may worsen the bowels. LaSH is also good for women who get benefit from the cervix during sex. There is less bladder disruption. The LaSH method possibly reduces the chance of prolapse in later life, as the support at the top of the vagina is not disrupted (but this only applies if there is no existing prolapse). A LaSH is often a good choice when there are large fibroids which may distort the anatomy and increase the potential for complications during total hysterectomy. Smears are still required which is a disadvantage, but less so with modern smear technology. Leaving the cervix is not the best choice for women who already have vaginal laxity or prolapse, nor for those who have pain during sex or pelvic pain.
Total abdominal hysterectomy | TAH
This “open” operation is used occasionally when there are massive fibroids, and also for cancers of the womb & ovary. In the case of massive fibroids, we will try & do the “top” part of the hysterectomy with the laparoscope, through high keyhole incisions eg. just under the ribs. This hopefully allows a bikini-line open incision for the “bottom” part of the hysterectomy. This enables uterus & fibroid removal through the low transverse incision instead of a midline cut – which means a faster recovery & fewer complications.
Subtotal abdominal hysterectomy | STAH
This “open” operation is used when the cervix is to be left, again when there are massive fibroids making laparoscopy difficult. As noted above, we will often try & do the “top” part of the hysterectomy with the laparoscope, through high keyhole incisions, using a bikini-line incision for the “bottom” part of the hysterectomy. Removal of the uterus & fibroids takes place through this low incision, instead of needing a long midline cut. The benefits & issues with leaving the cervix are the same as those noted above under LaSH.
Open operation used by gynae-oncologists for invasive cervical cancers, in conjunction with removal of glandular tissue (lymph nodes) from the pelvis.
The ovaries can be taken away at the same time as the hysterectomy, or left if healthy. There is some evidence that the ovaries should be left before the age of 50-55yrs if healthy and there is no family history of ovarian cancer. There may be significant benefits for brain function and a reduction in mortality if the ovaries are left. This does leave the small risk of ovarian cancer. However, removing the Fallopian tubes reduces the ovarian cancer risk by about half while preserving the benefits of leaving the ovaries.
The tubes are removed at all times (if practical) as this lowers the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 50%. It is thought that many of the more aggressive types of “ovarian” cancers actually start in the Fallopian tubes. Removal of the tubes is called a bilateral salpingectomy.
Risks of hysterectomy
All operations have risk that must be accepted during the informed consent process. However, most patients have no major problems.
- Infection – minor vaginal or wound infections or UTIs mostly; occasional chest infections – approx 5-10% risk.
- Bleeding during surgery – said to be around 5%.
- Adhesions – here scar tissue forms after the operation sticking things together, most commonly the bowel to the operation site. Most of the time there is no big issue with this. The chance depends on how extensive the surgery is. We always use special sprays or fluid to reduce the risk of adhesions.
- Skin healing problems can occur – widened or “heaped” scars, numbness round incision (common initially and usually improves), painful & tender scars (usually settles but can be due to nerve entrapment – can be treated with steroid injection or further surgery)
- Menopause is generally hastened by a couple of years if the ovaries are left at hysterectomy. Menopause is immediate if the ovaries are removed – we can use HRT to alleviate this.
- Damage to other organs, such as bowel, ureters or bladder, or vascular injury. 0.5-2% risk is generally quoted. The risk is said to be slightly higher with total laparoscopic hysterectomy. The more difficult the hysterectomy the higher the risk.
- Blood clots in the legs, going to the lungs – pulmonary embolism. Very rare. We’ll thin the blood if there’s an increased risk of this.
- Anaesthetic complications. However, modern anaesthesia is very safe.
- Very rarely, severe problems or deaths occur. The overall risk is 1/10,000, and there will generally be a pre-existing health problem. There is no more risk of this outcome than living your life normally for a few days.
Recovery is highly variable depending upon patient, pre-existing health, type of hysterectomy, and other factors. Recovery in two weeks or so is not unusual in vaginal or laparoscopic hysterectomy. Recovery can take up to 2-3 months if open surgery is needed eg. for massive fibroids. Recovery can also be delayed if an infection or other complication occurs afterwards. For most of our patients, the average recovery is 2-3 weeks for vaginal & laparoscopic hysterectomy and 6 weeks for open hysterectomy.
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Glengarry Private Hospital is a friendly medium-sized hospital in the Northern suburbs in Duncraig, very near to the freeway, midway between Joondalup and Osborne Park Hospital.