A hysterectomy is a common and safe surgery that can improve your health and quality of life. But it also changes your body and hormones forever. If you’re a younger, premenopausal woman, having a hysterectomy may affect how you age.
Here’s a look at the potential side effects of this surgery, including whether there’s a risk of rapid aging after a hysterectomy.
What Is a Hysterectomy?
Hysterectomy is a surgery to remove all or some of your uterus. It’s the second most common surgery in women after cesarean section. Hysterectomy treats a wide range of health conditions, including:
- Cancers of your reproductive organs. Hysterectomy is often part of the treatment for uterine endometrial, cervical, and ovarian cancer.
- Uterine fibroids. These are non-cancerous growths on your uterine walls. They can cause pain, heavy bleeding, or irregular periods.
- Endometriosis. This happens when the endometrial lining inside your uterus grows outside of it, sometimes into other nearby organs. Endometriosis can cause heavy bleeding, pain, scarring on your uterus or other organs, and fertility problems.
- Heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding. Heavy periods can happen because of a health condition like endometriosis or for unknown reasons. Removing your uterus eliminates your periods.
- Uterine prolapse. This happens when your uterus drops into your vagina. Aging and having many vaginal deliveries may cause uterine prolapse.
If your health condition affects other reproductive organs besides your uterus (as with cancer or endometriosis), your surgeon might also remove:
- Your cervix.
- The upper part of your vagina.
- One or both of your fallopian tubes.
- One or both ovaries.
Some people choose to remove these organs during a hysterectomy to prevent the possibility of cancer in the future. For example, removing your cervix eliminates your risk of cervical cancer.
And people at risk for hereditary ovarian or breast cancer because of BRCA genes or family history often choose to have their ovaries removed. Having no ovaries reduces the risk of these cancers.
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Hormone Changes After a Hysterectomy
A hysterectomy causes several permanent changes in your body that can impact your life. For example, with no uterus, your periods stop, and you can no longer get pregnant.
You’ll also experience hormonal changes, especially if you have your ovaries removed. Your ovaries produce hormones like estrogen and progesterone, so a hysterectomy that removes both ovaries causes early menopause.
But even if you keep your ovaries, your hormone levels may decline. As a result, you may go through menopause a few years earlier than the average age of 52. Menopause symptoms or signs you’re approaching menopause might include:
- Irregular periods that are heavier or lighter than usual.
- Hot flashes.
- Night sweats.
- Disrupted sleep or problems falling asleep.
- Mood changes.
- Anxiety or irritability.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Less interest in sex.
Does a Hysterectomy Cause Aging?
A hysterectomy won’t cause your hair to turn gray or your skin to wrinkle. But the gradual or sudden drop in female hormones, especially estrogen, can speed up physical signs of aging. And when estrogen levels fall significantly, you may also develop age-related health problems.
Besides maintaining fertility, estrogen plays many vital roles in your body.
- It helps keep your skin soft and supple. Your skin gradually loses collagen after menopause, leading to thinner skin and wrinkles.
- A drop in female hormones can cause hair to grow in unwanted places, like your chin. It may also contribute to hair thinning on your head.
- It helps maintain your muscle mass. As estrogen levels decline, it’s easier to lose muscle and gain fat. That may affect your metabolism and make it easier to gain weight.
- It shapes where and how easily your body accumulates fat. A drop in estrogen promotes more belly fat, also known as visceral fat. Excess abdominal fat contributes to health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
- It keeps your bones strong. It’s common to lose significant bone density in the first few years of menopause because of the drop in estrogen. That contributes to osteoporosis, thin, brittle bones that may break easily.
- Estrogen helps keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. Research shows women who have a hysterectomy have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. The risk is highest for those who have both ovaries removed and those who have a hysterectomy at a younger age.
- It helps keep your brain healthy. Having both ovaries removed before natural menopause increases the risk of memory problems and dementia as you age.
Preventing Rapid Aging After Hysterectomy
Sometimes, a hysterectomy is a necessary surgery. A hysterectomy may save your life if you have cancer in your uterus or another reproductive organ. And if you have a high risk of ovarian cancer, a hysterectomy that removes your ovaries can significantly reduce your cancer risk.
But many hysterectomies are elective surgeries. While having one can improve your symptoms, they often won’t cure common health conditions like endometriosis. It’s essential to consider the benefits along with the long-term risks.
If you and your doctor decide a hysterectomy is best, there are steps you can take to stay healthy. Making these lifestyle changes can reduce the rapid aging and other risks that come with less estrogen:
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and a hat and covering your skin. This can slow collagen loss and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
- Get at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise each day and do strength training exercises at least twice a week. This helps maintain muscle mass as you age and keeps your heart and lungs strong. And any physical activity burns extra calories, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans (legumes), nuts, and seeds with your daily meals and snacks. The fiber and antioxidants in these foods help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
- Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D for healthy, strong bones. Aim for 1,200 mg of calcium and 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D daily from your diet and supplements.
- If you had a hysterectomy with your ovaries removed or went through menopause early, ask about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT can minimize many menopause symptoms and improve your quality of life. HRT may also reduce your risk of heart disease and bone loss.
- Talk to your health care provider about your risk factors for age-related health conditions. Your primary care doctor can refer you for screening tests to catch any problems early and keep you healthy.
If you’re considering a hysterectomy, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. Ask about all your treatment options and how to reduce the risk of any long-term side effects. Being prepared before your hysterectomy can keep you healthy for many years to come.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. Hysterectomy. LINK
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Caring For Your Skin In Menopause. LINK
Stroke. Risks of Stroke and Heart Disease Following Hysterectomy and Oophorectomy in Chinese Premenopausal Women. LINK
Journal of the American Medical Association Open Network. Association of Premenopausal Bilateral Oophorectomy With Cognitive Performance and Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment. LINK
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.