What are the risks and potential complications of a hysterectomy?

As will all surgeries, a hysterectomy involves risks and the possibility of complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can occur during surgery or recovery.

General risks of surgery

The general risks of surgery include:

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing
  • Bleeding or hemorrhage (heavy bleeding), which can lead to shock
  • Blood clot, in particular a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis. A blood clot can move to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood

Potential complications of a hysterectomy

Complications of a hysterectomy can be serious and include:

  • Damage to your urinary tract, bladder, rectum, or other pelvic structures during surgery, which may lead to problems, such as urinary or fecal incontinence, and require further surgical repair
  • Early onset of menopause if both ovaries are removed

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before surgery and during recovery
  • Notifying your doctor immediately of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, increase in pain, or wound redness, swelling or drainage
  • Taking your medications exactly as directed
  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies

How do I prepare for my hysterectomy?

You are an important member of your own healthcare team. The steps you take before surgery can improve your comfort and outcome. You can prepare for a hysterectomy by:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history and medications you take. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies at all times.
  • Getting preoperative testing as directed. Testing will vary depending on your age, health, and specific procedure. Preoperative testing may include a chest X-ray, EKG (electrocardiogram), blood tests, and other tests as needed.
  • Losing weight before the surgery through a healthy diet and exercise plan
  • Not eating or drinking just prior to surgery as directed. Your surgery may be cancelled if you eat or drink too close to the start of the procedure because you can choke on stomach contents during anesthesia.
  • Stopping smoking as soon as possible. Even quitting for just a few days can be beneficial and help the healing process.
  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed. For a hysterectomy, this may include not taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and blood thinners. You may also be instructed to take a laxative to clean out your bowel the day before surgery.

Questions to ask your doctor

Facing surgery can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during a doctor’s office visit. You may also think of other questions after your appointment. Contact your doctor with concerns and questions before surgery and between appointments.

It is also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your preoperative appointments. Questions can include:

  • Why do I need a hysterectomy? Are there any other options for treating my condition?
  • What type of hysterectomy procedure will I need?
  • How long will the procedure take? When can I go home?
  • What kind of restrictions will I have after the surgery, and when can I return to work and other activities?
  • What kind of assistance will I need at home?
  • What medication plan should I follow before and after the surgery?
  • How will you manage my pain?
  • When should I follow up with you?
  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.

What can I expect after my hysterectomy?

Knowing what to expect can help make your road to recovery after a hysterectomy as smooth as possible.