A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the womb. Hysterectomies are carried out to treat conditions that affect the female reproductive system, including:

• heavy periods (menorrhagia)
• long-term pelvic pain
• non-cancerous tumours (fibroids)
• ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer or cancer of the fallopian tubes

A hysterectomy is only considered after alternative, less invasive treatments have been tried.

What happens?

There are three ways to carry out a hysterectomy:

• vaginal hysterectomy – where the womb is removed through a cut in the top of the vagina
• laparoscopic hysterectomy (keyhole surgery) – where the womb is removed through several small cuts in the abdomen
• abdominal hysterectomy – where the womb is removed through a cut in the lower abdomen

Each of these operations takes about an hour.  A vaginal hysterectomy is usually preferred over an abdominal hysterectomy because it is less invasive and involves a shorter stay in hospital. The recovery time also tends to be quicker.

The length of time it will take before you are well enough to leave hospital will depend on your age and your general level of health. If you have had a vaginal hysterectomy, you may be able to leave between one and four days later. If you have have had an abdominal hysterectomy, it will usually be up to five days before you are discharged. It takes about six-to-eight weeks to fully recover after having a hysterectomy. During this time, you should rest as much as possible and not lift anything heavy, such as bags of shopping. Your abdominal muscles and the surrounding tissues need time to heal.

What are the risks?

A hysterectomy is a commonly performed and generally safe operation. However, all surgery carries an element of risk. Specific risks associated with a hysterectomy include:

• Bleeding
• Bladder or bowel damage
• Infection
• Blood clots
• Vaginal problems (if you have a vaginal hysterectomy)
• Premature ovarian failure
• Early menopause

Ask your surgeon to explain how any risks apply to you.