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How to Prepare for a Hysterectomy

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 Any time you undergo major surgery, such as a hysterectomy, it is very important to be prepared. First and foremost, it is essential to learn about what to expect both during and after your surgery. After that, it is a good idea to begin taking steps one month prior to your surgery (or more), and to continue your preparation in stages leading up to your procedure. It is important for you to try to be in the best health possible, to make some practical arrangements at home, and to do some last-minute preparations on the day before your surgery.

Educating Yourself about the Procedure

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    Figure out what type of hysterectomy you'll be having. Depending on the reasons for the hysterectomy, different parts of the reproductive system will be removed. The term "hysterectomy" is an umbrella term for all of these procedures, so it is important to understand which type of operation will be happening to you.[1]
    • A supracervical or subtotal hysterectomy involves the removal of the upper part of the uterus only, while the cervix stays in place.
    • A total hysterectomy involves the removal of the whole uterus and cervix.
    • A radical hysterectomy involves the removal of the whole uterus, tissue on the sides of the uterus, the cervix, and the top part of the vagina. This is typically only done when cancer is present.
    • Your hysterectomy may or may not involve removal of the ovaries (a procedure called "oophorectomy").
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    Understand the differences between "open surgery" and "MIP" hysterectomies. An open surgery, or abdominal hysterectomy, is the most common type, comprising 65% of procedures. This method involves a 5–7 inch abdominal incision, through which the appropriate organs are removed. An MIP hysterectomy (or minimally invasive procedure) may be vaginal (where an incision is made inside the vagina, through which the organs are removed — known as a transvaginal hysterectomy) or laparoscopic (which is a surgery done using a laparoscope, through one or more small tiny incisions, often through the belly button). Sometimes MIP hysterectomies will be a combination of vaginal/laparoscopic techniques.[2]
    • An open surgery hysterectomy usually results in a three-day hospital stay.
    • MIP hysterectomies generally involve reduced hospital stays, quicker recovery times, less scarring, and a lowered risk of infection.
    • An MIP hysterectomy results in a three to four week recovery period to resume full activity, compared to a five to six week recovery with an abdominal procedure.
    • Not all women will be suited for an MIP hysterectomy. Factors such as scar tissue, obesity, and health status can all affect whether or not an MIP is good choice for you.
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    Learn about the risks associated with hysterectomy. A hysterectomy is considered a "moderate risk" procedure. Fortunately, most women who have this surgery experience no complications; however, as with any medical procedure, some complications do occur for a small percentage of women. It is important to educate yourself on what could happen, even though the risk is small. Some complications include:[3]
    • Urinary incontinence
    • Vaginal prolapse
    • Fistula formation
    • Chronic pain
    • Blood clots
    • Infection
    • Frequent urination
    • Heavy bleeding (hemorrhage)
    • Early menopause
    • Complications due to general anesthesia
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    Find out what to expect after your hysterectomy. The most common physical result of a hysterectomy is the early onset of menopause. If your ovaries will be removed during the procedure, you will experience the onset of menopause right away. If your ovaries will remain, you will still likely experience menopause at an earlier age than you would have otherwise. Additionally, after your hysterectomy, you will be advised to abstain from sexual activity or heavy lifting for a minimum of six weeks. On the bright side, after the recommended recovery period, most women report an immediate relief from reproductive pain, problems, and discomfort.
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    Gather additional information. Before your surgery, gather enough information to feel comfortable about the surgery. Generate a list of questions for your doctor, and talk to them until you feel all of your concerns have been answered. You may want to discuss any medications or hormone therapy you'll need, the effects of this surgery on your sex life, the best ways to accomplish a full recovery, and any other elements that you just aren't sure about or don't understand completely. [4]

Taking Steps for Better Health (One-Month Prior)

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    Quit smoking. Individuals who smoke have been shown to have a much more difficult time recovering from surgery. Take this as a great opportunity to stop smoking for good. Even if you do not want to stop smoking indefinitely, the American College of Surgeons has determined that quitting four weeks prior to your surgery, and staying smoke-free for four weeks afterward has been shown to decrease your rate of wound complications by 50%.[5]
    • Choose a "quit date" and mark it on your calendar. Let you friends and family know about your "quit date."
    • Discuss your decision to quit with your physician for support and possible prescription therapies.
    • Discard any cigarettes, ashtrays, etc. from your home, office, and car.
    • Purchase some "oral replacements," such as gum, candy, and/or toothpicks.
    • Decide if you will use some form of nicotine replacement (gum, patch, etc.).
    • Seek out a support system, such as class to quit smoking, Nicotine Anonymous, or a family member who has successfully quit smoking.
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    Lose weight. As with smoking, patients who are very overweight have been shown to have more difficulty with recovery. This is the time to take control of your health and come out of your surgery feeling strong. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor about healthy ways to trim down before your surgery.[6]
    • Start focusing on eating healthy foods, above restricting unhealthy foods. Try to make sure you are getting 5 serving of vegetables each day.
    • Work on burning more calories — try to get active! This may simply be taking a walk around the block, riding a bike in your neighborhood, or putting on some music and dancing up a sweat.
    • Follow these methods for one week and see if you have experienced any weight loss. If you have not, begin reducing your caloric intake by 100–200 calories per day, by cutting out food with processed sugar or white flour.
    • Dropping just 5 to 10 lbs. prior to your surgery can have very positive effects on your recovery.
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    Get plenty of rest. You will want to be well-rested before you head into surgery. Improve your health and reduce your stress by aiming for eight hours of sleep per night for the month leading up to your surgery. If you feel like taking an additional nap during the day, go right ahead.[7]
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    Eat a balanced diet. This month is all about getting into the best possible shape so that you tackle your recovery with strength and well being. Regardless of your current weight, this includes eating a well-balanced diet of veggies, fruit, lean proteins, and whole grains. If this is new to you, you want to talk to your doctor for support.[8]
    • Try to consume five servings of vegetables per day (like bell peppers, cauliflower, or green beans). If you are having trouble fitting all those servings in, try making a smoothie with frozen fruit and spinach or broccoli. You'll be surprised how good it will taste!
    • Focus on eating whole grains (like brown rice, quinoa, oats, or millet) instead of processed flour foods (like pasta, white bread, or tortillas). Simply boil your grains in water, broth, milk, tomato sauce, or almost any other liquid.
    • Avoid foods with processed sugar, like soft drinks and dessert items.
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    Plan to take time off work. Another great way to prepare is to make appropriate arrangements at work. You will want to make sure everything is squared away, so that you can take some time to rest and recover, without worry. Speak to the people you work with and take any necessary steps to prepare for your absence.[9]

Making Arrangements at Home (One-Week Prior)

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    Follow your doctor’s instructions for medication. Depending on which medications you take regularly (if any), your doctor may advise you to change dosages or even refrain from certain meds in the days leading up to your surgery. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions with regard to medication.[10]
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    Drink plenty of fluids. As you head into the week of your surgery, make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids (particularly water). This will help prevent constipation, which can be a side effect of surgery. Try to consume at least 8 glasses of water per day.[11]
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    Fill your post-op prescriptions. Ask your doctor to provide you with any prescriptions you will need after the surgery, and get these filled ahead of time. This makes them available for you as soon as you’re done with your surgery, and it is one less thing to worry about during your recovery.
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    Make arrangements for transportation. Your ability to drive will be curtailed for one to two weeks after your surgery or longer in some cases. Make arrangements for a ride home from the hospital, as well as any place you may need to travel during your recovery.[12]
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    Prepare some meals ahead of time. A few days before you head into surgery, it is a great idea to head to the grocery store, stock your pantry, and do a bit a food prep for yourself. You may consider preparing some freezer meals. This way, you’ll be able to nourish yourself and stay healthy without a great deal of effort.
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    Pack your overnight bag. You are going to want to bring a few items with you to the hospital. Pack your toothbrush, hairbrush, comb, shampoo, and deodorant, as well as an easy-to-wear change of clothes for the trip home.
    • Bring sanitary supplies.
    • Pack a robe and some slip-on slippers.
    • Bring some entertainment, like books, a tablet, or a laptop. Also remember to bring your charger for your electronic items.
    • Bring eyeglasses, hearing aids and dentures if needed.

Preparing for Surgery (One-Day Prior)

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    Eat light. Eating healthy is always important, but avoiding heavy, greasy, unhealthy foods for a day or so leading into your surgery is especially helpful. This can minimize any digestive problems associated with anesthesia, and help your recovery go well.
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    Gather your medical information. You will want to gather up any medical records, insurance information, a list of any medications you are taking, and your personal identification. If you have had any pre-op screenings or blood tests, you may want to bring the results of those with you as well.[13]
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    Follow your doctor’s instructions for food, drink, and bowel preparation. In most instances, you cannot have solid foods or liquids after 12:00am, the night before surgery. It is also possible for your doctor to prescribe a "bowel cleansing oral solution." It is crucial for you to follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to these pre-surgery preparations.[14]
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    Remove all jewelry. You should not be wearing any jewelry when you undergo surgery, so go ahead and remove any while you are still at home. If you have a piece of jewelry that you cannot remove (such as a wedding ring that has been on for many years), speak to you doctor before cutting the jewelry or taking other drastic measures.[15]
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