Ask Marilyn – Is a Hysterectomy necessary for heavy periods?

Q: For the past two years I suffered from agonisingly heavy periods. My doctor has suggested a hysterectomy, should I go ahead with it?


A: A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure in which a woman’s womb and sometimes her ovaries are removed. Every year thousands of women undergo hysterectomies and the most common cause for this is heavy periods, but in my opinion the too-frequent removal of a fundamental part of a woman’s body is nothing short of scandalous. Of course, there are times when this surgery is necessary, e.g. cancer, but with other problems it is better to see whether there are other ways of managing the problem.


Doctors are trained to offer their patients solutions and a hysterectomy is an immediate solution to the problem of heavy periods, whereas less invasive treatments may take longer to be effective. It may well turn out that you do need a hysterectomy for legitimate medical reasons, but before you make this big decision I strongly urge you to investigate other options. The only time I feel a hysterectomy should be an option is if you have cancer and your life is at stake. In all other instances (including heavy periods, and fibroids – another common reason for a hysterectomy) ask yourself the following questions before you consider a hysterectomy:

  • Do I really need this procedure?
  • Are the symptoms affecting the quality of my life to the extent that I can’t do the things I want to do?
  • Have I tried all the alternative medical treatments?
  • Have I tried the natural approach?
  • Am I planning to start a family or to have more children?
  • Am I ready to deal with the symptoms of sudden early menopause?

A hysterectomy is not an easy option. It’s major surgery that requires a lengthy stay in hospital, incisions, general anaesthesia and painful days and weeks after. It can also trigger sudden and unexpected physical, sexual and psychological changes; and if the ovaries are also removed a woman will have to deal overnight with the symptoms of early menopause. Not to mention the irreversible fact that she will no longer be able to have children. And, even if you do not have your ovaries removed, a hysterectomy may still cause a woman to have an early menopause. Many women just want to have the surgery but they don’t take into account the hot flushes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, forgetfulness, headaches, muscle and joint pain and other symptoms of menopause that may result. Women who undergo hysterectomy can also experience urinary incontinence, as well as deepening of the voice and weight gain. All these physical changes are the result of declining oestrogen levels.


About 20 per cent of hysterectomies are for heavy bleeding, but in my opinion a hysterectomy should never be considered as a treatment for this condition as natural therapies can be highly effective – as can a less invasive procedure called endometrial ablation, in which the lining of the womb is removed but the womb is left intact.


In next month’s issue there’s a feature on natural ways to treat heavy periods so be sure to read that. In the meantime avoid coffee and alcohol, which can increase menstrual flow, and make sure you eat plenty of hormone-balancing phytoestrogens (found in soya, legumes and wholegrains) and essential fatty acids (found in oily fish, nuts and flaxseeds), which increase the amount of beneficial prostaglandins that can reduce blood flow. You also need to cut down on red meat and dairy produce because a diet rich in saturated fat can encourage the production of excess oestrogen, which increases menstrual flow.


Remember, a hysterectomy is often an overkill solution to problems that have other viable treatment options; so if your doctor has recommended it to you and you don’t feel right about it, ask what your alternatives are and if need be get a second, third or even a fourth opinion. Take all the time you need to make the decision. In the great majority of cases, especially when heavy periods are the case, there is no rush.

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