Women's Health

Hysterectomy: What to Expect During Your Recovery

With proper care and attention, post-hysterectomy recovery is easier on women.

Hysterectomy: What to Expect During Your Recovery

Though a hysterectomy is categorized as a major operation, more women are going under the knife for it than before, and this is mainly due to less intrusive surgical procedures that lower the pain involved, shorten surgical scars, and speed up recovery.

In abdominal surgery, a T-shaped surgical incision gives direct access to the reproductive organs and facilitates a hysterectomy, albeit with a longer two to three-day recovery time than a laparoscopy. A laparoscopy, on the other hand, brings less pain and physical discomfort as well as shorter recovery time, enabling same-day discharge unless certain existing health conditions (hypertension, diabetes, and cardiac disease) complicate matters.

This is what you can expect post-surgery.

The scenario immediately post-hysterectomy

  • As the anesthesia wears off and your vital signs gradually return to normal, you will be put on oxygen to prevent breathing complications during this critical phase.
  • Your wounds, either abdominal or vaginal, will be dressed, to hold the stitches and prevent hospital-related infection.
  • A drip through your arm will introduce a steady stream of analgesic to relieve pain, in addition to saline, glucose, and nutrient solutions to back up the fluids lost in the operation. The drip will continue till you are fit enough to resume solid food intake.
  • A tubular catheter collects urine from the urinary bladder, draining it into a collection bag for a couple of hours after the operation.
  • The nurses will be periodically monitoring your vital signs – pulse, blood pressure, and body temperature, and the amount of blood, urine, and fluids being drained away.
  • In an abdominal hysterectomy, a drainage tube will be inserted to enable prompt disposal of fluids and blood from beneath the wound to heal the affected area faster.
  • In a vaginal hysterectomy, a large gauze-like tampon will be inserted into the vagina to soak and drain away excess fluids. The vaginal pack is usually removed within 24 hours following the operation.
  • In laparoscopic surgery, gauze patches are used to cover the incisions, to enable faster healing. This ensures the speediest recovery period among all three types of hysterectomies. 
  • Assisted walking for short spurts will be encouraged to rev up blood circulation and avoid dangerous side effects such as blood clotting, vein thrombosis, and arterial embolisms.
  • Physiotherapy will be initiated to help your pelvic muscles regain their strength and flexibility.
  • A return visit will be scheduled five to six days after surgery to remove existing stitches.

Recovery Time Varies With the Type of Surgery You Undergo

Abdominal surgery, though the first choice for a surgeon and the easiest of hysterectomies to perform, is hardest for the patient and requires hospitalization for two to three days, especially if chronic conditions like cardiac disease or diabetes become delaying factors. Overall recovery is slower, and well over one and a half months is needed before one can resume strenuous activities.

Vaginal surgery is easier on the patient who is discharged the same day, although overall recovery may take about two weeks. The most comfortable of all surgeries is laparoscopy, enabling-same day discharge from the hospital, a swifter one-week recovery span, and faster resumption of normal activity.

You May Walk but Have to Avoid Lifting Heavy Objects

It takes some time for pelvic muscles to heal after surgery, and for pelvic organs to adjust to the vacuum where a major reproductive organ like the uterus was once placed. To reduce strain on the abdomen muscles and allow stitches to heal faster, patients are advised to refrain from lifting weights for a couple of weeks.

Walking and performing normal physical activities are encouraged because these improve blood circulation. Walking prevents blood clots from forming and traveling to sensitive spots like the lungs and brain where clots may cause embolisms. Swimming is also permitted, but this is not to be carried to extremes as that will strain abdominal muscles and cause fatigue.

Gym Workouts Will Have to Wait

Physical exercise is to be avoided in the first two weeks after surgery as excessive strain may tire and tear already sore muscles. It takes some time for the stiffness to subside and for pelvic muscles to relax after surgery. As almost every type of exercise stretches abdominal muscles in some way or other, strenuous exercise is best avoided till the body heals completely.

Driving Is Best Avoided Immediately After Surgery

Sudden movements and lateral twisting of the abdominal muscles may cause excruciating pain in the recovery phase after the operation, and driving tends to strain these muscles. In some patients, the strain of braking the car loosens stitches, leading to infection and other complications. As a precaution, avoid driving to the extent possible, to allow wounds heal completely.

Wound Care Is a Must to Prevent Reinfection

The patient needs to be watchful and alert to stitches that may reopen after strenuous physical activity. Generally, the area around stitches has to be dried with disposable tissue and bandaged with gauze after gentle cleaning with a mild solution of soap and water.  A reddish tint around stitches, signs of wounds leaking, localized swelling, and rising fever are indications that infection may have set in. Wearing loose-fitting and breathable cotton slacks are one way of ensuring faster healing.

Sexual Activity May Be Resumed After Six Weeks

Contrary to what many women think, sexual activity and libido do not decline post-hysterectomy. As long as the ovaries remain intact, the ebb and flow of hormones and sexual urges remain undiminished. Patients will be advised to wait it out for at least six weeks before resuming vaginal sex, which could pressure the vaginal cuff. Surveys of post-hysterectomy patients have revealed that sexual performance peaked in women after surgery probably because of the immediate and tangible relief of being freed from painful symptoms.

Constipation Could Be Your Companion for a Short While

One of the aftereffects of anesthesia and a side effect of strong medication will be a constipated gastrointestinal tract. Stool softeners like Dulcolax help in making bowel movements smoother till the anesthesia wears off. The recommended solution is to drink plenty of water and juices to stay hydrated.

Recovering at Home

This is what you can expect upon returning home after surgery.

  • A light stain in the vaginal discharge that gradually clears up.
  • Some nausea, indigestion, and disturbed sleep due to continued medication.
  • A feeling of fatigue that can be remedied by adequate rest.
  • Mood swings and pangs of depression that may be attributed to hormonal changes after uterus removal. Counselling and family support will help you survive this phase.
  • The sadness of losing one’s femininity (wholly unjustified) may overwhelm some women after the termination of menses and loss of childbearing capacity. Such feelings can be overcome with a positive attitude and counselling.
  • Loss of libido can be expected for a week or so after surgery, but this can be attributed to soreness in the vagina as it slowly recovers from the operation. The majority of women who have undergone a hysterectomy said that they regained their sex drive within a reasonable period after surgery, and there was no loss of performance.

Don’t Hesitate to Call the Doctor if Things Go Wrong

Post-hysterectomy, the body should heal gradually, enabling one to resume a normal life as quickly as possible. Persisting pain, excessive blood loss, localized swelling, and a nauseated feeling after consuming food are symptoms that should alert the patient to seek expert medical opinion.