The Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber provides a variety of services to help patients and their families cope with the many physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment. We are committed to helping patients regain a sense of control over their lives and feel their best throughout treatment and beyond.
Many women have asked what they can do to help themselves recover after having a hysterectomy. Most of the strategies are common sense tips to overall good health. The suggestions listed below are meant to help you feel better faster and prevent complications. This can be used as a useful guide during your recovery and in the future.
Things to do
- Eat a well-balanced diet, including protein, fruits and vegetables, which will help with healing after surgery.
- Drink about 8-10 glasses of fluids a day (especially water) to keep your body well hydrated. If you have a cardiac problem, ask your doctor about your fluid intake.
- If you have a tendency towards constipation, increase your fiber intake as well. Please speak with a dietician if you need help with your diet.
- Balance exercise with rest. You may walk and stretch. Walking is one of the best ways to recover and heal more quickly. Pace yourself and listen to your body. You may find yourself getting tired during the day. When this happens, lie down to rest or take a nap. A good time to take a walk is after your rest or nap.
- You may go up and down stairs. You will probably need to climb stairs slowly at first, one leg at a time. As your body heals, this will get easier and easier. No heavy lifting - objects greater than 20 pounds - for six weeks after surgery. Twenty pounds is about as heavy as a bag of groceries.
- You may resume driving after two weeks, if you feel well enough and have stopped all pain medication. Your responses will be a little slower at first and leg activities such as braking or clutching may be uncomfortable. Remember to resume driving only when you don't have to hesitate at all and when you are not taking pain medication.
- Once you are home, it is important to keep the incision clean and dry. Your doctor will give you specific bathing instructions, often to wait at least 4 weeks before submerging in a bath tub. Physicians have various opinions on bathing, which can depend on your exact surgery. Bathing too soon can interfere with the healing of the incision, which could lead to infection.
- You may take a shower immediately, but allow the water to run over your incision; avoid having water hit it directly. You may gently wash away dried material from around the incision. Make sure to dry completely by gently patting, instead of rubbing.
Discuss this with your surgeon during your first postoperative visit, but the general rule is nothing in the vagina for eight weeks. (This includes tampons, douche products, and having sexual intercourse).
- Keep the incision clean and pat dry. Every day, wash your incision and personal area with warm water and mild soap. Be sure to rinse and pat dry thoroughly.
- Check the area of your incision every day for redness, swelling, drainage or wound opening.
- If you have drains, you may wash by taking a sponge bath or a shower, making certain that the area of the drain and incision are dried carefully.
- You will probably go home with staples or steri-strips (thin, white Band-Aids). They will help your incision heal. Staples are metal clips that are used in addition to sutures to help close the incision. Your incision may be slightly red around the stitches or staples. This is normal. The staples are removed 10-14 days after surgery. After removing the staples, steri-strips may be applied. You may shower with the staples or steri-strips in place. When the steri-strips begin to curl up, you may peel them off. With time, the color of your incision will fade and become less noticeable. This will take six to 12 months.
- Wear loose fitting clothing that will not rub or irritate the incision area. You may put a clean piece of gauze over the incision to prevent irritation from your garments.
- Do not put anything into your vagina. This includes tampons, douching or having sexual intercourse. Your doctor will advise you when this area is healed well enough. This is usually in about eight weeks.
- Avoid direct sun exposure to the incision area. Also, do not use any ointments or lotions directly on the incision unless you were instructed to do otherwise.
- You may see a small amount of clear or light red fluid draining from the incision or staining your dressing or clothes. If there is a large amount of drainage (for example, the dressings become soaked), please call your surgeon immediately.
- Your doctor will write you a prescription for pain medication and an anti-inflammatory (Motrin) when you go home. After surgery, discomfort and mild to moderate pain are common. Take your pain medication before the pain becomes severe. This will give you better pain control. It is also helpful to alternate your pain medication with an anti-inflammatory. If you find that you are having a lot of discomfort as your activity increases, try taking your pain medication one-half hour before that activity. If your pain is not relieved by medication, please call your physician. Pain medication may cause constipation. To prevent constipation, when you are taking pain medication drink more fluids, eat more high fiber foods and take a stool softener such as Colace (docusate) and a laxative such as Senokot (sennosides) or milk of magnesia daily.
- Take all of the medications you were on before the operation, unless any of those medications have been changed or stopped. If you have any questions about what medicine to take or not to take, please call your surgeon. Your primary care physician is another resource to help answer such questions.
Your bowel takes time to recover from surgery. By the time you are discharged, you should be passing "gas" or flatus. This should continue once you are home. Your first bowel movement should occur 4-5 days after surgery. You may experience "gas" pain. Drinking hot liquids and walking will help relieve discomfort. You should use a stool softener such as Colace (docusate) and a mild laxative such as Senekot (sennosides) or Milk of Magnesia, which you can purchase at the drugstore. You should continue the Colace and laxative until you have stopped taking the pain medication or your stools become unusually loose.
- You may have a vaginal discharge for up to eight weeks. (At first this may be bloody, but with time should gradually get lighter and thinner.)
- Two weeks after surgery, some women experience an increase in vaginal bleeding for 24 hours. This is normal. However, if it persists or becomes very heavy, call your doctor.
- If both ovaries are removed, you may experience symptoms of menopause, which may include hot flashes, vaginal dryness and night sweats. Hormone replacement therapy may be an option to treat these symptoms and should be discussed with your physician before surgery.
How you may feel after your surgery:
- You may feel tired, weaker than usual, or "washed out" for up to six weeks after a major surgery. Try to take naps, or frequent rest breaks, during the day. Simple tasks may initially exhaust you.
- You may feel a sense of loss or become depressed. You may have trouble concentrating or encounter difficulty sleeping.
- You may have a poor appetite for a while and food may not seem to have its normal taste or appeal.
- All of these feelings and reactions are normal and should go away in a short time. If they persist please tell your surgeon. At all times please feel free to contact his/her office with any questions.
Call if you experience any of the following:
- Temperature greater than 100.5.
- Redness, swelling, tenderness, drainage from your wound or opening in operative site.
- Bleeding - heavy vaginal bleeding soaking a pad an hour.
- Pain that is not relieved by your pain medication.
- A foul odor from your vagina.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Prolonged constipation or diarrhea, even though you have eaten foods and taken medication to relieve it. Call your doctor if you do not have a bowel movement after 5 days.
- Urinary symptoms such as frequency, pain or inability to urinate.
- If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or calf pain, you must go to a local emergency room for evaluation.
Sexual Health Program
Sometimes cancer and cancer treatment can change sexual function and desire. The Sexual Health Program at Dana-Farber provides a comfortable, supportive environment where you can talk with a health care professional about your questions and concerns.