Hysterectomy refers to the surgical removal of the uterus. Some forms of hysterectomy also remove the cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and part of the vagina. Surgery may be performed through an incision in the lower abdomen, laparoscopically (through a small incision), or vaginally (without an external incision).

There are many reasons a person may need a hysterectomy, including cancer, uterine prolapse, fibroids, chronic pain, and heavy, painful periods. It is major surgery, and recovery takes about six weeks, depending on the method used. Recovery from a hysterectomy can be a difficult process, but there are steps that can make it easier.

Take It Easy (But Not Too Easy)

As with any major surgery, it's important to rest after a hysterectomy. Heavy lifting—anything over 10 pounds— should be completely avoided for the entire recovery period. That being said, it’s best not to stay completely sedentary.

Very gentle exercise, such as walking, benefits both body and mind and is a good way to ease back into physical activity after surgery.

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Take Medication as Prescribed

Pain control is an important part of recovery, and most people will receive medication to manage post-operative pain. The most commonly prescribed pain medications are acetaminophen and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine) like naproxen or ibuprofen. If regular medication doesn’t manage the pain, some people may be prescribed an opioid like oxycodone.

Opioids are highly effective but addictive drugs that should only be taken as prescribed and for the shortest time possible.

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Increase Fiber Intake

Disturbed bowel function, particularly constipation, is common after a hysterectomy. Immediately after surgery, ask your doctor about taking laxatives to avoid straining. During recovery, constipation can be managed by increasing fiber intake, especially insoluble fiber that draws water into the stool and allows it to pass more quickly.

Good sources of fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. It’s also important to drink lots of water because dehydration increases the risk of constipation.

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Take Care of the Surgical Site

It’s vital to follow proper wound care procedures after an abdominal or laparoscopic procedure to avoid the risk of infection. Wash the surgical site daily with warm soapy water and pat dry. Don’t use harsh cleaning agents like alcohol, as this can slow healing.

If the medical staff applied a dressing, change it every day after washing (or as instructed by your doctors). If there are strips of tape on the incision, leave these on until they fall off.

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Wear Loose Clothing

Tight or restrictive clothing can irritate the incision site following an abdominal or laparoscopic hysterectomy. For this reason, it’s best to wear loose, comfortable clothing like drawstring pants and oversized shirts during recovery. Some people may also experience post-operative swelling of the abdominal area, so tight clothing will be uncomfortable.

Full-coverage underwear in a larger size will reduce irritation, or, if spotting isn’t a problem, skipping underwear for a week or so may be a good option.

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Eat a Balanced Diet

Eating a varied and balanced diet is always a good idea, but it’s especially important during recovery. As mentioned, whole grains and vegetables can help prevent constipation, but they also provide valuable vitamins and minerals that the body needs.

Another consideration is protein intake. Protein helps repair and build muscle, skin, and tissue, so is especially useful to wound healing. Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, beans, and soy. Fatty acids can help reduce inflammation, which is also helpful after surgery. Good sources include oily fish, nuts, and seeds.

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Track Hormone Levels

A hysterectomy that removes the uterus and ovaries will trigger surgical menopause, and some people, especially those under the age of 45, will be prescribed hormone replacement therapy to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. This will be monitored by a health professional to ensure hormonal balance.

People who don't have their ovaries removed will continue to experience their monthly cycle, though they will no longer menstruate. Some people find it helpful to track their hormone levels by recording body temperature and cervical discharge in order to better understand their overall health and to manage any symptoms, such as mood swings. This can be done by diary tracking, or there are several apps that can help with this.

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Avoid Sexual Intercourse

Sexual intercourse should be avoided for four to six weeks after surgery to give the incision site time to heal and any discharge or bleeding to stop. The exact timing will depend on the individual and can be discussed at follow-up appointments during recovery.

Some people will feel comfortable resuming non-penetrative sexual activity before this time, which is fine. For people experiencing menopause after a hysterectomy, vaginal dryness can be alleviated with a lubricant.

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Find Out When It's OK to Drive

Driving after a hysterectomy requires clearance from a doctor. The doctor will assess whether the person can wear a seatbelt comfortably and be in full control of the vehicle at all times, including the ability to perform an emergency stop. For most people, this will be two to four weeks after surgery.

Anyone taking opioids following surgery will not be cleared to drive, as the medication could impair their coordination and reaction time.

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Avoid Taking a Bath

While it’s necessary to clean the incision site daily, people recovering from a hysterectomy are advised not to take a bath during the recovery period. The specific time depends on the type of surgery, but it will likely be between two and six weeks.

Submerging the incision site in water for a prolonged period of time could soften the wound and cause it to reopen; it could also introduce bacteria to the site, increasing the risk of infection. Swimming, using a hot tub, or submerging in any kind of water should all be avoided until a doctor considers the wound healed.

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Expect Some Light Bleeding

Light bleeding or bloody discharge is to be expected up to a few weeks after a hysterectomy. This is part of the healing process and no reason to worry. Most people will need to wear sanitary pads during recovery. If the bleeding becomes as heavy as a period or lasts longer than six weeks, talk to a doctor.

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Call a Doctor If You're Concerned

Hysterectomy recovery can be a tough road, and it’s important to speak to a doctor if you're concerned. Reach out to your surgeon or another professional if any of these symptoms occur: excessive bright red bleeding; foul-smelling vaginal discharge; pain that isn’t managed by medication; signs of infection, such as fever or increased pain and swelling; and problems with the incision, such as loose stitches, red streaks or liquid coming from the wound.

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Lean on a Support System

A hysterectomy is a major, potentially life-changing surgery, so it’s important to have a support system in place. On the physical side of things, people may need help with housework, childcare, and getting around, so consistent at-home support could be non-negotiable.

Emotional support is also essential. Many people will find recovery takes a mental toll because they are unable to be independent and may be facing life changes such as early menopause. Family, friends, and health professionals all play a role in the recovery process, and open, honest communication is crucial.

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