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What’s a hysterectomy and why do women get them?

Back in February, Girls star Lena Dunham shared her decision to get a hysterectomy at age 31 and – while she’s by no means the only woman to have to make this difficult choice – she is certainly on the younger end of people undergoing the operation.

But what does it mean? Is it something you’ll need to think about in future? Here’s what you need to know about the uterus-removal procedure.

First things first, what exactly is a hysterectomy?

Good question. A hysterectomy is surgery to remove your uterus (womb). Sometimes your fallopian tubes and ovaries will also be removed during the procedure.

Why do women generally get them?

There are many reasons why someone might get a hysterectomy, including:

Heavy or irregular vaginal bleeding: Usually due to cancer, infection, fibroids or changes in hormone level.

Uterine fibroids: Non-cancerous growths in the wall of the uterus.

Uterine prolapse: Where the uterus slips down into the vagina, which is more common after vaginal childbirth.

Cancer or pre-cancer: When cancer occurs in the uterus, ovaries, cervix or endometrium, a hysterectomy is often the best option, though chemotherapy or radiotherapy may also be possible.

Endometriosis: When the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus, on the ovaries, causing severe pain and bleeding between periods.

Adenomyosis: When the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows inside the uterus walls, causing severe pain and heavy bleeding.

Why did Lena Dunham get one?

Explaining her decision in a Vogue article, Lena spoke of the increasing pain from her endometriosis, her eight previous surgical procedures and how it feels to know she’ll never carry a child. You can read her letter in full here.

Are there alternatives to a hysterectomy?

In some cases. Everything from medicine to exercise to alternative surgery may be prescribed, depending on the severity of your condition.

What happens to your periods once you have a hysterectomy?

They will stop. Additionally, if you have your ovaries removed during a hysterectomy, you’re likely to go through other symptoms of menopause. However, if you keep your ovaries, you shouldn’t go through the other symptoms of menopause until closer to the average age (52).

Where can I find out more information about hysterectomies?

Both the NHS and The Hysterectomy Association offer lots of info on the procedure and the aftermath. And, of course, you can always consult your doctor if you’re concerned about your own uterine health.

It’s time you started celebrating your period, guys. Sign up to bettybox RN and get all your tampons and pads, beauty products, sweet treats and loads more cool stuff delivered to your door, every single month. We know. It’s totally awesome. 

Image: Amber Griffin

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