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Risks and side effects of hysterectomy

Hysterectomy can cause some short-term and long-term effects that may affect your physical and emotional wellbeing.

Everyone’s recovery is different and not everyone gets all these side effects, but it can help to be prepared. Your healthcare team will explain potential side effects to you in more detail.

Read about recovering from treatment >

On this page:

In this section:

Problems during surgery

During a hysterectomy, there is a risk of complications such as:

  • bleeding
  • cuts made to the tubes connecting your bladder and kidneys (ureters), bladder, bowel or blood vessels.

These complications can normally be treated during the surgery. 

Pain

After a hysterectomy, you can expect some pain where your surgeon made the cut. This can last for about 4 to 8 weeks, although it should get better day-by-day. 

The level of pain varies from person to person. If you are in a lot of pain or find it is affecting your day-to-day life, talk to your healthcare team. They can advise on prescribed pain medication or over-the-counter pain medication, offer reassurance based on your medical history and, if needed, will be able to check you are healing properly.

Vaginal bleeding and discharge

You will probably have some light bleeding from your vagina and more discharge than usual. This can last for up to 6 weeks after surgery. It is best to avoid tampons while this is happening – use a period pad instead.

You must tell your healthcare team straight away if you:

  • notice heavy bleeding – are soaking through a period pad every hour
  • start passing blood clots
  • have vaginal discharge that smells badly.

These may be signs of an infection, which your healthcare team can treat.

Bladder and bowel changes

You may have bladder or bowel problems after a hysterectomy. This is because the surgery can damage them.

Research has shown that in women and people who have a hysterectomy, the risk of damage to:

  • the tubes that wee passes through (ureters) is about 1 in 100 (about 1%)
  • the bladder is about 1 in 100 (about 1%)  – this is  slightly more common in keyhole surgery than open surgery.

Some symptoms of this damage tend to get better on their own between 6 to 12 months after surgery, such as a lack of sensation in your bladder. Others might last for longer, including needing to go for a wee more often or a feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied properly. 

We also know that between 7 and 9 in 100 (7% to 9%) women and people who have had a hysterectomy still have bowel problems, including constipation, 1 year after surgery. 

It’s important to let your healthcare team know about any side effects so you can get treatment.

We have more detailed information about bowel and bladder changes on another page. The information is about these changes after pelvic radiotherapy, but some of the suggestions for managing the changes may be useful for you too.

Read about bladder and bowel changes >

Changes to your sex life

You may find that your sex life is affected after a hysterectomy. This may be because of the surgery itself, or the emotional impact of being diagnosed with cancer and having treatment. This is common and it can take some time to recover, but things usually do get better.

You might worry about whether sex will feel the same after hysterectomy. If you were able to have orgasms before, you should be able to have them again. Your vagina will be shorter after the operation, but it can stretch using dilation therapy or during penetrative sex. You could try vaginal lubrication – this can be prescribed by your GP, or you can buy it at a chemist, supermarket or order online. 

It can help to start off gently. If you find things uncomfortable, wait a week and then try again. Any discomfort or pain should get better over time. If it does not, tell your healthcare team so they can support you.

Read more about sex after cervical cancer >

Menopause

If you had your ovaries removed, you will start to go through the menopause. This can cause many symptoms including:

  • changes to periods – they will eventually stop
  • hot flushes
  • insomnia
  • changes to your mood.

There are ways to treat or manage these symptoms.

Read about menopause and cervical cancer >

After a hysterectomy, you won’t be able to get pregnant or give birth to a child or more children. It is important to think about this as part of making decisions about treatment. You can talk to your healthcare team about other ways to have a child.

Read about hysterectomy and fertility >

Lymphocysts or lymphoceles

Swellings filled with fluid can develop in your stomach (abdomen) after a hysterectomy. These may be lymphocysts or lymphoceles. Sometimes they go away on their own, but if they are larger or causing discomfort, your surgeon may drain them using local anaesthetic and a needle.

Lymphoedema 

After hysterectomy, you might have some swelling in your:

  • groin 
  • one or both of your legs.

This is called lymphoedema. It is caused by a build-up of lymph fluid that can’t drain away because the lymph nodes have been removed. It is more likely to happen if you have had radiotherapy as well as surgery. 

Read about lymphoedema >

More information and support after hysterectomy

Any type of surgery for cervical cancer can have a huge impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing. Your healthcare team, both at the hospital and at your GP surgery, are there to support you with any questions or worries you have.

Remember that we are here for you too, whether you are waiting to have surgery, are in recovery, or are years past it. Our trained volunteers can listen and help you understand what’s going on via our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000.

Check our Helpline opening hours >

Our 1:1 service offers a private way to get support over email, phone call or video call. We can talk through your personal situation, as well as helping you process your feelings and think about next steps. We also welcome partners and family members to use our 1:1 service, so if you are a loved one reading this or think yours would benefit from some extra support, get in touch. 

Access our 1:1 service >

Sometimes connecting with others who have gone through a similar experience can be helpful. Our online Forum lets our community give and get support. You can read through the messages or post your own – whichever feels most comfortable.

Join our Forum >

If you have general questions about surgery for cervical cancer, our panel of medical experts may be able to help. They can’t give you answers about your individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with your GP or healthcare team for that.

Use our Ask the Expert service >

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.

References

  • British Gynaecological Cancer Society (2020). Cervical Cancer Guidelines: Recommendations for Practice. Web: www.bgcs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FINAL-Cx-Ca-Version-for-submission.pdf. Accessed October 2020.
  • Cibula, D. et al (2018). The European Society of Gynaecological Oncology/European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology/European Society of Pathology guidelines for the management of patients with cervical cancer. Radiotherapy Oncology. 127;3. pp.404-416.
  • Biglia, N. et al (2017). Lower Body Lymphedema in Patients with Gynecologic Cancer. Anticancer Research. 37;8. pp.4005-4015. 
  • Wit, EM. et al (2014). Urological complications after treatment of cervical cancer. Nature reviews: Urology. 11;2. pp.110–117.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

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"The first side effect I have had to deal with was starting the menopause."
Read Maria's story
Date last updated: 
04 Nov 2020
Date due for review: 
01 Nov 2023
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