Hysterectomy, the surgical removal of the uterus, is the second most common surgery for women in the United States (after cesarean section, with approximately 500,000 hysterectomies performed yearly. Traditionally, this surgery was highly invasive because it required a large incision.
Today, surgeons can perform this procedure using minimally invasive techniques, which entail smaller incisions, less pain, and quicker recovery.
Yale Medicine surgeons are skilled at these newer, less invasive procedures.
"After a person has considered all of the other options and decides to have a hysterectomy, they should be offered all of the advancements that health care has to offer,” says Linda Fan, MD, director of Yale Medicine Gynecologic SpecialtiesIn the past, people spent days in the hospital with catheters in place. Surgical technique and technology, as well as post-operative and anesthesia care, have improved so much that many patients feel well enough to leave the same day after surgery and return to their normal lives within a few weeks of major surgery—this would have been inconceivable in decades past."
What is a hysterectomy?
Hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus. It is used to treat a range of conditions. One of the most common reasons for hysterectomy is the treatment of uterine fibroid tumors, which are growths of the uterus that may cause heavy bleeding, pain, or other bothersome symptoms.
After a hysterectomy, a woman will no longer be able to have children. Depending on the severity of the condition, it might be possible to delay surgery until after a woman has had all the children she plans to have.
There are three main categories of this procedure:
- Total hysterectomy: The removal of the entire uterus, including the cervix.
- Supracervical hysterectomy: The removal of the body of the uterus, while the cervix is left intact.
- Radical hysterectomy: The removal of the entire uterus and some of the nearby, surrounding tissues. This surgery is primarily for cancerous conditions.
Some conditions may require that one or both of the ovaries and/or fallopian tubes be removed in addition to the uterus.
How is a hysterectomy performed at Yale Medicine?
Yale Medicine physicians emphasize safe, minimally invasive surgical techniques. Some of these include:
- Vaginal hysterectomy: In this procedure, a surgeon removes the uterus through the vagina. Studies show that vaginal hysterectomy is safer than traditional surgical methods and requires less hospital recovery time. Yale's doctors are experts in this method, with a track record of success even in complicated cases in which the uterus is larger than normal.
- Laparoscopic hysterectomy: In this procedure, a surgeon makes three or four small abdominal incisions. Then, they insert a tiny camera on the end of a tube into one of them, and other surgical instruments into the other incisions. The camera feeds video to a monitor, which the surgeon uses to guide the surgery. The uterus is removed through the vagina or through the abdominal incisions. This approach also offers quicker recovery compared to traditional abdominal surgery.
- Robot-assisted hysterectomy. In this minimally invasive procedure, a surgeon uses a console to control the movement of robotic arms and surgical instruments. The arms and tools make very precise cuts and movements. A camera and screen allow the surgeon to see a three-dimensional view of the surgery. The uterus is removed through a few small abdominal incisions. Recovery time and post-surgery pain are usually reduced when compared to other hysterectomy procedures.
In some cases, a physician may opt for an abdominal hysterectomy, a procedure which requires a larger surgical incision than vaginal or laparoscopic hysterectomies.
What are the complications of a hysterectomy?
While hysterectomy is a relatively safe procedure, all surgeries carry certain risks. The most common risks include blood loss, infection, and possible injury to nearby structures such as the intestines, bladder, blood vessels, and nerves.
There are also risks of blood clots and complications due to the anesthesia. After surgery, it is not unusual to experience pain, constipation, and occasional problems emptying the bladder. In addition, it is common to have spotting or vaginal discharge after surgery.
Many women also have emotional responses to surgery because they can no longer bear children. It is also common for women to feel relief. Women who feel depressed or uneasy in the weeks after a hysterectomy should speak to their doctors about counseling services.
“Women also often worry about a hysterectomy affecting their sexual function, but studies have shown that not to be the case," according to Dr. Fan.
What makes Yale Medicine's approach to hysterectomy unique?
“At Yale Medicine, surgeons are trained in the latest advanced minimally invasive surgical procedures and, as a referral center, they do enough of the surgical cases to ensure expertise. We are able to individualize our plan to the patient’s desires and needs,” says Dr. Fan. “Women undergoing surgery to remove the uterus or other reproductive organs often fear a long, painful recovery. Our gynecologic surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists collaborate as a team to provide amazing care that puts the patient at the center. Our goal is to focus on one patient at a time. A caring team with unparalleled expertise coupled with advancements in post-operative care to minimize pain and nausea make this a top-notch experience for patients.”