If you’ve recently had a hysterectomy as a medical necessity or are considering this procedure as a treatment option for a medical problem, you’re likely wondering how severely and rapidly it will impact your hormones. There are several types of hysterectomies, including removal of just the uterus, removal of the uterus and cervix, and removal of the uterus and structures around it, such as the ovaries and/or fallopian tubes.
A radical hysterectomy removes the uterus as well as ovaries, and it’s the removal of your ovaries that has the power to bring on menopause suddenly, which is called surgical menopause. That’s because the ovaries are the main producers of your hormones.
There is some evidence that a hysterectomy can affect hormone production even when the ovaries are preserved. For the most part, though, doctors say that keeping the ovaries and just removing the uterus allows women to go through natural menopause.
For women like Ruth Lamar, who have both their uterus and ovaries removed, surgery can soon be followed by such menopausal symptoms as hot flashes and mood swings. “I’d be crying one minute, angry the next, happy the next,” recalls Lamar, of Fenton, Mo.
Lamar’s emotional upheaval is typical for women plunged into instant menopause following the removal of their ovaries.
Symptoms of surgical menopause are the same as those of gradual ovarian shutdown, but much more severe. They include hot flashes, difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, lower libido, dry skin, vaginal dryness and mood swings. Surgical menopause may also result in memory loss, which according to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), is not seen in women who undergo natural menopause.
Having ovaries removed rather than experiencing their natural shutdown means not only a loss of estrogen but also a loss of testosterone which may reduce hot flashes, maintain sexual desire and stabilize moods. “They’re getting a double hormone whammy,” says Martha Richardson, MD, an assistant director of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.