There are multiple reasons as to why a person may decide to undergo a hysterectomy. For some people, the decision may be driven by personal choices, which would allow them to remove their uterus either at an earlier age, such as before menopause, or during their midlife, once they have entered menopause.
Additionally, a hysterectomy may be suggested by a healthcare provider, such as an OB/GYN. Experts may suggest a person undertake the procedure to avoid any future complications that may occur. This would mean that the decision is largely based on medical examination, and may be completed to help alleviate discomfort or avoid potential health-related risks.
Whether the decision to undertake the procedure is driven either by personal or medical reasons, a hysterectomy is considered to be one of the biggest surgeries a woman can undergo in her life. More than this, vaginal dryness after hysterectomy and other symptoms, may be present and can cause increased discomfort and pain during sex.
In the following article we’ll have a look at how vaginal dryness can impact a person’s life following a hysterectomy, and what are some things they can do to alleviate the discomfort of vaginal dryness.
What is a Hysterectomy?
In summary, a hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus and the removal of surrounding organs depending on the type of surgery. Like with many things in medicine, a hysterectomy is not a one-size-fits-all type of procedure, and a healthcare provider may discuss which type of hysterectomy is needed depending on a person’s conditions and other medical information.
There are several types of hysterectomies a person may have, and each will determine whether the fallopian tubes or ovaries will need to be removed. This will be discussed by your healthcare provider or OB/GYN specialist beforehand.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the different types of hysterectomies that a person may receive are:
- Total hysterectomy: This involves the removal of the uterus and cervix, often the lowest part of the uterus. This surgery will not remove the ovaries.
- Supracervical hysterectomy: Removal of the upper part of the uterus, leaving behind the cervix.
- Total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: This procedure will remove most of the reproductive organs, including the uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes. Additionally, this surgery includes the removal of the ovaries as well, which might cause early menopause in women who haven’t yet undergone menopausal transition.
- Radical hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: A more severe procedure, which involves the removal of the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Additionally, the upper portion of the vagina, and surrounding tissue may also need to be removed. The decision to undertake this surgery will mostly depend on health-related risks, such as the presence of cancer in and around the uterus.
Reasons for Undergoing Hysterectomy and Its Immediate Effects
As already mentioned, the decision to undergo a hysterectomy may either be based on personal reasons, or often, and perhaps more common, due to medical and health-related reasons which may lead to near and long-term complications.
Some of the reasons why a woman may undergo a hysterectomy can be:
Uterine fibroids: A condition that may cause bleeding and pain due to noncancerous growths on the walls of the uterus.
- Hormonal changes: Changes in hormones may cause heavy and usual bleeding. More than this, other complications such as infection or cancer may cause unusual or heavy bleeding.
- Endometriosis: Endometriosis can cause abnormal pain in the lower abdomen, and may lead to irregular bleeding during menstrual cycles. This condition occurs due to tissue growing outside the uterus and tends to grow in the ovaries. Endometriosis is a condition that affects nearly 10% of reproductive women and girls across the world.
- Adenomyosis: Another possible reason for a hysterectomy may be due to the growth of uterus tissue growing inside the walls of the uterus. This may cause uterine walls to increase in size, usually becoming thicker, causing pain or discomfort, and leading to heavy bleeding.
- Cancer: Cancer is often one of the biggest drivers behind women undergoing a hysterectomy. The American Cancer Association (ACA) finds that cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancer is among the most prevalent cancers in women, and may be caused by health-related risks or genetics.
- Uterine prolapse: Johns Hopkins Medicine estimates that roughly half of women between the ages of 50 and 79 have some degree of uterine or vaginal prolapse. A uterine prolapse involves the process where the uterus may shift from its usual position, and move down into the vagina.
This is usually more common among women that have had several or more vaginal births and tends to happen after menopause, or due to health-related conditions such as obesity. Effects of uterine prolapse involve lower back pain, urinal leakage, uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the pelvic region, a bulging vagina, or inability to completely empty the bladder.
Addressing Vaginal Dryness Post-Hysterectomy
There are instances where some women may experience vaginal dryness following a hysterectomy. The reasons for this may be due to a decreased production of estrogen, a hormone that helps to regulate natural female lubrication. Additionally, due to decreased blood vessels and nerves, blood supply may result in some mild vaginal dryness.
Prevalence and Causes of Post-Hysterectomy Vaginal Dryness
It’s important to note that not all women may experience vaginal dryness following a hysterectomy. Vaginal dryness may be impacted by a variety of reasons or factors, including age, genetics, and the prevalence of menopause.
In fact, one study found that vaginal dryness often decreases after a hysterectomy, and some women have reported having increased sexual arousal and activity around three months or two years after a hysterectomy
- Hormones: A decreased presence of estrogen, and declining production may cause some vaginal dryness. Estrogen is commonly produced by the ovaries, and by removing the ovaries during a hysterectomy, you inadvertently remove the production powerhouse of estrogen, leading to decreased natural female lubrication.
- Type of hysterectomy performed: Not all hysterectomy procedures will remove the ovaries, and only in cases where the ovaries are removed, such as with a radical or total hysterectomy the ovaries may be removed.
- Menopausal status: Another consideration is that menopause may also increase the frequency of vaginal dryness. In some women, declining levels of estrogen could lead to the thinning and drying of the vaginal tissue, leading to lower frequency of vaginal lubrication and causing discomfort or painful sexual activity.
Take A Look At Sex After Hysterectomy - My Story and Tips about Hysterectomy and Sexuality:
Hormonal Changes and Their Impact on Vaginal Health
One of the biggest known hormonal changes women tend to experience during menopause, and following a hysterectomy is declining levels of estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen is considered a vital hormone in the female body and helps to regulate the natural female lubrication of the vagina. Without this hormone present, or having declining levels thereof may cause the thinning and drying of the vaginal wall.
More than this, some research suggests that declining estrogen and increased progesterone levels may lower sex drive. During menopause, women may experience a decrease in testosterone, a male androgenic hormone, which helps to regulate and maintain libido and sexual desire.
Without the necessary hormones present the body may begin to undergo certain changes, leading to a variety of symptoms, one being vaginal dryness, which may cause discomfort or painful sexual intercourse.
Managing Vaginal Dryness
There are ways to treat vaginal dryness following a hysterectomy. A healthcare provider will typically suggest a treatment option or would provide you with the necessary prescriptions to alleviate severe symptoms of vaginal dryness.
Medical Interventions: HRT and BHRT
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): A common treatment for women experiencing severe menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness is HRT. This treatment involves taking medication that helps to replenish declining estrogen and progesterone levels.
The most common use for HRT is to help treat and alleviate mild hormonal symptoms, including vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and night sweats. Additionally, hormone replacement therapy has been found to help prevent bone loss, a common symptom in some menopausal women, and reduce bone fracture risks.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT): Bioidentical hormone therapy has received increasing attention in recent years, due to the nature of the remedy containing hormones that are chemically identical to those our bodies produce naturally and are made from plants.
BHRT works similarly to traditional hormone replacement therapy treatments, however, the chemical makeup tends to be similar to those hormones humans produce naturally, and are in some cases safer and more natural.
While a natural remedy, BHRT is not without risks and there are some cases where BHRT may increase the risk of blood clots, strokes, gallbladder disease, and heart disease.
Role of Natural Lubricants and Moisturizers
Another possible remedy and treatment for vaginal dryness is through the use of natural lubricants and moisturizers.
A hormonal topical lotion that contains traces of estrogen or progesterone may be beneficial and can help alleviate the discomfort caused by vaginal dryness.
On top of this, some research has found that natural ingredients, such as coconut oil and sea buckthorn oil may help to promote healthy vaginal well-being, and potentially decrease the presence of vaginal dryness and discomfort.
What Are My Alternatives To HRT?
Many experts tend to believe that hormone replacement therapy remains one of the most effective and safest ways to treat menopausal symptoms, however, these treatments may carry some risks in the long-term.
While tested and approved HRT medication remains one of the best ways to alleviate menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, or vaginal dryness, among other things, other alternatives may be considered.
Improving your diet is one of the most effective remedies for alleviating menopause-related symptoms. Some experts suggest that incorporating a variety of fresh produce can help contribute to a better well-balanced lifestyle.
Consider eating things such as:
- Calcium-rich foods
- Lean protein
- Green leafy vegetables
- Soy products for estrogen
Effective stress management can contribute to the larger alleviation of menopausal symptoms. Activities that help to reduce stress, such as exercise, gardening, or spending time doing hobbies you enjoy can be considered stress relievers.
Additionally, some research suggests that things such as meditation will also help you manage stress levels more effectively. Minimizing the intake of caffeine and nicotine, which contributes to elevated cortisol levels may make you feel more anxious at times.
You may want to consider replacing caffeine with herbal teas and avoid excessive consumption of alcohol. More than this, getting enough sleep, anything between six and nine hours per day will help you feel more relaxed and focused while spending time by yourself or socializing with close friends and relatives can also be another effective way to decrease your stress levels.
There are countless supplements available on the market that are specifically engineered to address menopause symptoms. Supplements that contain natural and organic ingredients tend to be the most beneficial, however, results may be different from person to person.
Consider taking supplements that contain the following ingredients:
Vitamin D: Promotes healthy epithelial cell growth in the vagina.
Vitamin E: Alleviates vaginal discomfort in menopausal women.
Hyaluronic Acid: Keeps skin hydrated and retains moisture.
Sea Buckthorn Berry Oil: Contains a high concentration of Omega-7 fatty acids and helps to promote healthy skin rejuvenation and natural female lubrication for women struggling with vaginal dryness.
Probiotics: Helps to balance vaginal flora and support the vaginal microbiome.
Calcium Tablets: People who are lactose intolerant may consider taking calcium pills as a way to receive their daily calcium intake.
Evening Primrose Oil: An organic oil that contains Omega-6 fatty acids, and has estrogen-like properties and activity when introduced into the body.
Each person’s level of exercise will largely depend on their physical abilities, including mobility, strength, and endurance. For aging women, at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise weekly is considered to be beneficial, however, some experts suggest getting between 75 and 120 minutes of exercise each week.
Not only will everyone’s routines and endurance levels be different, but exercise can include anything from jogging, walking, gardening, and cycling to more intense workouts such as weight lifting and swimming.
Try and incorporate exercise activities that you are comfortable with, and that provide you with the necessary relief you need. Additionally, you can try to exercise with a friend or family member to help you stay motivated, and it’s always better to have some company around while breaking a sweat.
Aerobic exercises often help to keep your blood pumping, so try to do more activities that involve things such as running, spin classes, or taking a steady walk around the neighborhood in the mornings or during the afternoons when the temperature is cooler.
Addressing Painful Sex After Hysterectomy
To avoid painful sexual experiences following a hysterectomy, it’s advised to follow directions provided by a healthcare professional and follow up in the event of further discomfort or if excessive heavy bleeding occurs.
The hysterectomy process usually takes between four to six weeks to heal. However, each person heals differently, and it’s important to routinely follow up with a healthcare provider regarding the process.
Avoid having intercourse in the weeks or months following the hysterectomy. More than this, avoid placing any objects into the vagina, including sex toys, fingers, tampons, or douche.
Use a natural moisturizer that helps to alleviate the discomfort. Ask your healthcare provider for any specific recommendations, and try to use only organic products that contain minimal synthetic flavoring or scents.
You may use a water-based lubricant once the healing has been completed and recovery has been successful. This will help to increase sexual function and lubricate the vaginal tissue.
What Can I Use for Vaginal Dryness?
One treatment option is a vaginal moisturizer that contains either estrogen or progesterone. Using a natural dietary supplement that contains sea buckthorn oil or coconut oil may also be beneficial for alleviating vaginal dryness.
How Long Does It Take to Heal Internally After a Hysterectomy?
The healing process can take anywhere from four weeks to six weeks, or roughly two months. However, the healing process may be different for each person, and not all women may fully heal within this period. It’s advised to routinely follow up with your healthcare provider about the healing, and inform them if any unusual or heavy bleeding occurs.
A hysterectomy is a serious procedure that requires careful consideration beforehand. For women not yet in menopausal transition, a hysterectomy may fast-forward this process, and put you in early menopause should the ovaries be removed.
For women already in menopause, a hysterectomy may help to alleviate some discomfort, however, this might be different for each person, and symptoms following the procedure can vary from person to person.
Consult with a healthcare provider about the process of getting a hysterectomy, and keep in mind that depending on the nature of the surgery, each procedure may be different and requires various remedies or treatments to help alleviate symptoms following the procedure.