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Hysterectomy - 'There are pros and cons to everything'

Susan Carlton, from Lincoln, Lincolnshire, had an abdominal hysterectomy in 2002 at the age of 33. She lives with her husband Richard and three children.

"Ever since my periods started, when I was around 14, I have had problems. They were very heavy and very painful right from the beginning. Over the years, my GP has referred me for several investigations to check inside my abdominal cavity and also inside my womb. Nothing was ever found to be physically wrong with me.

"In the meantime, my quality of life was severely affected. Each month, the bleeding was so heavy that I had to use two maternity pads at a time to soak up the flow. The pain was very bad – some days I was literally on my hands and knees as that was the position I felt most comfortable in. I sometimes even slept in that position, which of course wasn't ideal for the comfort of my husband Richard, who was sharing my bed.

"After I'd had my children and was sure I didn't want any more, I decided to have a treatment called uterine ablation where the lining of my womb was permanently taken away. It was successful in that it stopped my periods, but unfortunately I still had the same horrendous pain each month around the time I would have had my period. My doctor couldn't explain it, but thought that I might have a kind of endometriosis that grows in the muscle of the womb.

"My life continued to be badly affected. I had to cancel family gatherings and was miserable and in pain for almost two weeks every month. Still searching for a solution, I tried all sorts of painkillers, both prescription and over-the-counter, but nothing really worked.

"When I was 33, I finally came to the conclusion that the best solution was to have a hysterectomy. I didn't like the thought of having to wait almost 20 years for my menopause to arrive so that I would be naturally free of the pain. I did a lot of reading about the procedure and was confident it was what I wanted. My surgeon decided that an abdominal hysterectomy under general anaesthetic was best for me.

"Unfortunately, during the operation, he found that I had numerous cysts on my ovaries, some of them quite large. As I had given my consent for him to remove my ovaries if he found a problem, he took my ovaries out. 

"It was a shock when I woke up to hear my ovaries had been removed, but first I concentrated on my recovery. It took a few days before I was comfortable getting out of bed to go to the toilet as I was very tender internally and around the scar. I was given painkillers and the nurses were very kind.

"Then, three days after the operation, although I had been put on HRT straight after the hysterectomy, I had full-blown menopausal symptoms. But thankfully around a week later, the HRT kicked in and I felt better.

"Five days after the operation, I was well enough to go home. To start with, I was only able to walk a little bit around the house every day and relied on my family to do most things for me. But gradually I got my strength back. Although I was told I would be almost back to normal within six weeks, for me it took around four months. This might be because I'm overweight.

"I don't regret having my hysterectomy as it has improved my quality of life enormously. It's really wonderful that I'm no longer in pain.

"Sadly, my sex drive has taken a dive since the operation, and I have since learned that this may be down to the loss of the hormone testosterone, which my ovaries were producing. I am currently on oestrogen-only HRT, but will ask my doctor about having testosterone added to see if it improves my sex life. I also notice that I don't have as much energy as before the operation, which again may be due to a lack of testosterone.

"What I've discovered is that there are pros and cons to everything. Without the hysterectomy, I was in pain for around half of every month, but since the hysterectomy, I have less energy. I wish I'd had more information about the effects of having my ovaries removed before going ahead, but overall I'm satisfied and happy with the result." 

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