Hysterectomy risks and complications is a concern for every woman scheduled for a hysterectomy.
Although a hysterectomy is a procedure that can save a woman’s life with certain medical conditions, it is a procedure that comes with certain risks.
The removal of the uterus is one of the most common surgeries performed today, and less than ten percent of hysterectomy patients experience minor or major complications.
Having knowledge about the potential hysterectomy risks and complications will help you make a better decision and have a positive post-surgery experience.
Here is an overview of hysterectomy risks and complications:
One of the major risks of the surgery is excessive bleeding. This can occur on entry during laparoscopic surgery. Entering into the abdomen is associated with 0.1 percent risk of damage to the blood vessels like the vena cava or aorta. The amount of blood loss can be quite variable and depends upon various factors. Small to moderate amount of blood loss is normal. However, in the case of excessive bleeding, a blood transfusion is necessary and open surgery may be unavoidable.
Moderate or light vaginal bleeding continues throughout the recovery period. Reasons women may experience abnormal bleeding from the vagina include:
- Vaginal vault infection
- Excessive use of heat to tissue during surgery
- The material or technique used to close the vaginal vault
- Resuming strenuous physical activity too soon
Women undergoing pelvic surgery should get prophylactic antibiotics as the risk of infection during and after the surgery is high. Such an infection can occur at the site of incision days after the surgery is over. The first days after the operation, they regularly measure the temperature as fever is one of the first signs of a post-operative infection.
Signs of infection in a surgical incision include:
- increased pain
- discharge from the wound
- the area around the incision is warm and red
- the area is tender to the touch
Sometimes infections develop after discharge from the hospital. Vaginal or skin incisions can open and get infected and may need re-admission to the hospital. In case you notice any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Complications of anesthesia
With modern advancements in medications and monitoring technology, the safety measures for inducing anesthesia have increased multi-fold over the last few years. But, anesthesia is a hysterectomy risk one has to consider as it can sometimes lead to serious complications. Some of the complications of anesthesia include stroke, aspiration, heart attack, lung infections and even death.
At a higher risk of complications from anesthesia are women:
- who smoke a lot
- that are overweight
- with a heart or lung condition
It is important the anesthesiologist learns about existing respiratory problems, allergies, and heart conditions.
Damage to surrounding organs
Hysterectomy can be traumatic for surrounding organs. There is a risk of damage to urinary bladder, ureters, and bowels during the surgery. Damage to any of these organs needs immediate repair surgery. At times, the symptoms of urethral, bladder or bowel injury do not become obvious until several days after the surgery.
If you develop symptoms like:
- abdominal distention
- nausea and vomiting
- back pain
then consult your surgeon immediately.
The risk of complications with a laparoscopic hysterectomy is notably higher than with an abdominal hysterectomy. The greatest risk of injury during a laparoscopic hysterectomy is when there are adhesions. When adhesions are present an open procedure may be a safer choice.
Small bowel obstruction
During the recovery phase, your small bowels can become obstructed or twisted which will obstruct the normal flow of its contents. The number one cause of small bowel obstruction after hysterectomy is adhesions. A potentially life-threatening complication, that is more common after abdominal hysterectomy. It can happen days after surgery but can also occur years later.
The first signs of an intestinal obstruction are:
- distended abdomen
- the inability to pass gas
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal tenderness
- severe cramping pain
Often surgery is necessary to remove the obstruction and clear the passage.
After every major surgical procedure, there is a risk that the patient develops a blood clot. This is because of immobility during and after the operation. They may develop in the deep calf veins causing pain, warmth, and swelling. When not treated a blood clot can break off and move upward to the heart, lungs or the brain. This is a life-threatening situation as it deprives these organs of oxygen.
When it blocks the circulation in the lungs it will cause:
- sharp pain when breathing
- shortness of breath
- increased heart rate
- spitting up blood
To prevent blood clot formation nurses will urge you get up and move around as soon as possible after the operation.
How can you lower your risks?
We did not round-up this list of hysterectomy risks to frighten you, but to give you an understanding of what will increase your chances of a successful outcome. What you can do:
- When you are scheduled for surgery it is advisable you stop smoking. Most anesthesiologist will look disapprovingly when they hear a woman is a heavy smoker, as it may increase her risk of breathing problems during and after surgery.
- Many doctors will recommend overweight women to lose some weight before surgery. Surgery time can take longer for obese women and they also experience more complications after surgery than nonobese women. A healthy weight also helps speed up recovery after a hysterectomy. And not to forget, losing weight will be a lot easier before than after the hysterectomy.
- Restrict your daily strenuous activities for the first weeks following surgery. Avoid bending, heavy lifting and straining. These activities not just increase swelling, but also put pressure on the wound and it can start bleeding.
If you like to read more about hysterectomy risks and statistics you can find a very detailed list at hersfoundation.com.