The recovery period following a hysterectomy is not easy. A hysterectomy is a type of surgery in which a woman's womb is partially or fully removed, either through medical necessity or choice. A hysterectomy is a major operation, both physically and emotionally - 75% of patients report debilitating fatigue following surgery that often lasts longer than the physical postoperative pain. This can cause issues in professional and personal life, and may lead to frustration and depression.
What Is a Hysterectomy?
A hysterectomy is a major operation in which parts or all of a woman's womb is removed to treat a number of complaints and conditions, including pelvic pain, menorrhagia (i.e., heavy periods), tumors, and cancer of the ovaries, uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes. After a hysterectomy, a woman can't become pregnant, and the surgery involves around five days of hospitalization and a six-week recovery period.
A hysterectomy is a big operation, and a patient is likely to feel drained both from the experience of the operation and as her body struggles to adjust to the changes and recover from major surgery. A full hysterectomy will also immediately induce what's known as surgical menopause, which can intensify fatigue.
If a woman undergoes a full hysterectomy before she has experienced menopause - which normally occurs around the age of 51 - surgical menopause will immediately occur after the procedure has taken place. This means adjusting to menopausal symptoms, one of the most common being fatigue. Given that a woman who has undergone a major operation is likely to experience fatigue even at the best of times, this can lead to extreme exhaustion.
Overall, most women actually feel better emotionally after a hysterectomy. Women with depressive episodes or anxiety often find that their moods improve significantly after the operation. This is particularly common among women who chose to have a hysterectomy.
However, a hysterectomy can increase your risk for depression if you have a severe illness or have previous psychological issues. The worst risk group is childless women under forty who were forced to have the operation due to a severe illness, and feel that their whole life's plan has been upset. The length of the depression depends on the woman in question, her support group, and her outlook on life.
Dealing with Fatigue After a Hysterectomy
Each patient is different, and women should receive personalized advice to deal with postoperative fatigue on an individual basis from her doctor.
Generally, a patient should not overexert herself physically or socially during the initial recovery period. Oral iron supplements are often prescribed to combat postoperative fatigue. Iron carries oxygen in the bloodstream, helps muscles store and use oxygen, and is a vital part of enzymes, improving cell functions and digestion. An increase in iron intake is likely to combat the physiological effects of fatigue, such as inability to concentrate, physical weakness, and reduced energy levels.
Dealing with emotional fatigue is a separate matter. Remember that 20% of women undergo hysterectomies in their lifetime. Talking to a partner, counselor, or other women who have experienced a hysterectomy can help deal with the emotional repercussions of the operation.
Fatigue can be debilitating and depressing, but it's not permanent, and there are ways of combating it. There are people and resources to help you recover your energy and embrace postoperative life.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Iron and Iron Deficiency. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/iron.html
- DeCherney, A.H. et al. (2002). Postoperative fatigue negatively impacts the daily lives of patients recovering from hysterectomy. Obstetrics and gynecology, 99(1), 51-57. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11777510
- National Health Service UK. (2014). Hysterectomy. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hysterectomy/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- New York State Department of Health. (2010). Hysterectomy. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from https://www.health.ny.gov/community/adults/women/hysterectomy/