This information explains total abdominal hysterectomy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and how to care for yourself afterward.
This booklet describes the total abdominal hysterectomy. This surgery may be done if you have:
- Ovarian cysts
- Endometriosis, (when the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus)
- Constant heavy periods or pelvic pain
- Cancer of the cervix, uterus or ovary
The uterus is located in the lower abdomen between the bladder and the rectum. The uterus is also called the womb. The lower, narrow end of the uterus is the cervix (see Figure 1). When a woman is pregnant, the baby grows in the uterus until he or she is born.
Total Abdominal Hysterectomy
An incision or cut is made through the abdomen. The doctor removes the uterus including the cervix (see Figure 1). Your doctor may perform one or both of the other procedures listed below. If so, these will be done at the same time as your hysterectomy.
Sometimes one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes are also removed (see Figure 1). This is called a salpingo-oophorectomy. If both ovaries are removed, you will start menopause. If you have already gone through menopause and have no symptoms, there may be very little change. You may not feel any different after the surgery. If you have not already started menopause, you may have symptoms. These can include:
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
Lymph Node Dissection
Your doctor may also remove some of your lymph nodes. This is called a lymph node dissection. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures. They are found throughout the body and make and store cells that fight infection. Sometimes cancer cells spread to the lymph nodes, which is why they are removed. Only select lymph nodes are removed if a cancer is suspected.
Changes after the Surgery
You cannot bear children after this procedure. Menstruation will also stop. But, a hysterectomy does not cause menopause unless the ovaries are also removed.
There are some risks with this surgery because the uterus is near the bladder and rectum. There may be an impact on the way you urinate, defecate and have sexual intercourse. The doctor will try to preserve your normal function as much as possible. The goal is to protect your:
- Urinary function
- Bowel function
- Sexual function
Preparation for the Surgery
- You will be scheduled for a pre-surgical testing (PST) visit before your surgery. During the PST visit, you will meet with a nurse practitioner and discuss anesthesia. This is the medicine used to put you to sleep during the surgery. You will also have some tests done such as:
- An electrocardiogram (EKG)
- A chest X-ray
- Blood tests
- Other tests that your doctor may decide are necessary
- Your nurse will give you the following fact cards to review. Please read them carefully:
- Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before surgery.
The Day of Surgery
Surgery will be performed at:
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
1275 York Avenue (between 67th and 68th Streets)
The hospital garage is located on 66th Street between York and First Avenue.
Recovery in the Hospital
After the surgery you will be in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). You will be there while you recover. You can have ice chips and water as soon as you are fully awake. Family members may also visit you in the PACU. After the recovery phase, you will be taken to your hospital room.
Fluids will be given to you through an intravenous (IV) line, which is a line in a vein. The IV line will remain in place until the day of discharge. You can eat that evening or the morning after the surgery. Most people do not pass gas (flatus) or have a bowel movement for several days after surgery. You do not have to pass gas or have a bowel movement before you leave the hospital.
You will feel some pain after the surgery. To help relieve this pain, medicine will be given to you while you are in the PACU. Right after surgery, pain medicine will be given through your IV line or through an epidural. An epidural is a small tube that is placed into your spine with a needle to deliver pain medicine. You will have a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump. Your nurse will give you the Patient-Controlled Analgesia fact card. You will be changed to oral pain medicine within a few days. The nurses and doctors will ask you about your pain frequently. If your pain is not relieved, please tell your nurse.
You will have an incision or cut across your abdomen. The incision will be closed with staples. Before you leave the hospital, your nurse will show you how to clean your incision. You may shower 48 hours after surgery.
Breathing and Circulation
Breathing and circulation problems can develop after any surgery. The goal during the first few days after your surgery will be to prevent these problems. You must walk in the hallways at least three to four times a day to help your breathing and circulation. Your nurse will help you get out of bed the same day you return to your room. You will also have compression boots on the lower part of your legs to prevent circulation problems. They are connected to a pump and will squeeze your legs from time to time while you are in bed. The boots should be worn when you are in bed until you are discharged. You may also be given an injection to prevent blood clots from forming.
You will be taught to use a small breathing device, called an incentive spirometer (in-sen-tiv spir-ah-mih-ter). It will help you expand your lungs. You must use it at least ten times every hour while you are awake. Take 3 deep coughs after every 10 breaths with this device. Your nurse will also teach you to splint your incision. This will reduce movement of your stomach muscles and decrease pain while you do the coughing exercises.
Drains and Tubes
After surgery, you may have some drains and tubes in place.
- You may have a Foley® catheter in your bladder. It allows urine to drain.
- You may have a drain in your abdomen. It allows fluid in the abdomen to drain.
Diet After Surgery
You can begin eating solid foods after your surgery. Start with soft, easy to digest foods such as:
- Canned fruits
- Chicken noodle soup
- White toast and crackers
Eat small frequent meals and gradually advance to regular foods.
Milk and carbonated beverages can cause discomfort. Only have these foods in small amounts during the first few days after surgery. If you have bloating, gas, or cramps, limit the amount of high fiber foods such as:
- Whole grain breads and cereals
- Fresh fruits
- Gassy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beans and onions
If you have any questions, call (212) 639-7312 to speak with a dietitian.
Preparing For Discharge
Patients are usually discharged 2 to 3 days after surgery. You will be ready for discharge once you:
- Have adequate bowel activity. This will be based on a physical exam. It usually means that bowel sounds can be heard and your stomach is soft. You are not required to pass gas (flatus) before discharge.
- Are able to eat solid food. It may take several weeks for your appetite to be what it was before surgery. However, you must be able to eat some solid foods before you go home.
- Have adequate pain relief. You should expect to have discomfort after surgery, but you will get pain medicine. It should make you comfortable enough to manage at home.
- Are able to walk. In some cases, a physical therapist may be needed.
Travel arrangements should be discussed before your admission. You will be discharged between 8:00 am and 11:00 am. Please make arrangements for a friend or family member to bring you home. The discharge nurse will help you plan your transition from the hospital to home. He or she will give you instructions about:
- Activity restrictions
- When to see your doctor for a post-operative visit
Recovering at Home
Caring For Yourself
Tubes or Drains
Some patients go home with tubes or drains. You may have the Foley® catheter or drain in your abdomen. If you go home with either of these, you or a family member will be taught how to care for it. Any supplies you need will be ordered for you. If there is a need for visiting nurse services at home, the case manager will discuss this with you. Coverage for these services will depend on each patient's insurance benefits.
Clean the incision with soap and water as your nurse taught you.
Some patients go home with an open wound that requires dressing changes at home. Your nurse will teach you how to do this.
If you have staples, they will need to be removed in 7 to 10 days. Instructions on where to have them removed will be given to you prior to discharge. Once your staples are removed, Steri-Strips® (small strips of tape) are used to cover the incision. You may shower with these on. They will begin to peel off in about one week. If they have not fallen off after 7 to 10 days, please remove them in the shower.
It takes 6 to 8 weeks for the incision to heal. Do not strain or lift anything over 10 pounds (4.54 kg) until it has healed. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when you have healed completely.
You will be discharged with medicines for pain. These will usually be the same ones that you took in the hospital. Common medicines used for pain are acetaminophen and hydrocodone (Vicodin®) and diclofenac sodium (Voltaren®). If these did not work well for you in the hospital, your doctor may order you another pain medicine.
Do not drive if you have pain or are taking pain medicines stronger than acetaminophen (Tylenol®), aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil®). Discuss any plans to travel with your doctor. If you are traveling by airplane or have a long car ride, get up and walk every hour. Be sure to stretch your legs, drink plenty of fluids, and keep your feet elevated when possible.
Daily exercise such as walking will help you recover faster. Wait until your doctor or nurse says it is safe before beginning heavy exercise such as:
- Weight lifting
- Sexual Activity. Do not have sexual intercourse until your doctor has cleared you.
Returning To Work
Most people can return to work about four to six weeks after the surgery. If your work requires heavy physical activity, it may take longer.
Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you:
- Have swelling or tenderness in your calves or thighs
- Have heavy vaginal bleeding (light spotting is expected)
- Have redness or drainage at or from the incision site
- Become short of breath
- Cough up blood
- Have a temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher
Call your doctor or nurse during business hours if:
- You have not had a bowel movement or passed gas in 3 days.
- You have diarrhea. Do not take an antidiarrheal medicine [such as loperamide (Imodium®) or bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate®)] until you speak to your doctor or nurse.
- You have any questions or concerns about this information.