Thursday, September 30, 2004

Ovarian failure following hysterectomy

If you have retained your ovaries when having a hyst, you may be surprised when your hormone output drops after surgery. Sometimes this simply represents slight ovarian insult from the damage to surrounding blood vessels and nerves during surgery, and as healing progresses, these symptoms abate.

But about 50% of the women who retain their ovaries experience menopause within five years of their surgery, irrespective of their age at the time of surgery. This means, for any given individual, a whole range of possible experiences from menopause right after surgery to menopause at whatever time it would otherwise have occurred. The most important thing we can gain from this statistic, though, is the validation that if we are experiencing menopausal symptoms sooner than we'd normally expect, this could be the reason.

It's common for this postop ovarian impairment to be referred to as "sleeping" on many hysterectomy message lists and forums, but the situation is not really as simple as this implication that they might "wake" back up again. While it's true that the impairment—which is actually a drop in their hormonal output—may resolve entirely with time and healing, that is not necessarily the case. Ovarian output is not an on/off function like a light switch. In fact, ovarian output may simply decrease somewhat and remain there; it may fluctuate considerably; it may just decline and keep on declining. There are many patterns of ovarian behavior and operative impairment does not necessarily cause any particular one. But whatever the pattern, if your output decreases below your level of hormone needs (which continue at a low level even though you no longer need to support fertility and uterine cycling), then you will experience some level of menopausal symptoms, proportional to the amount of shortfall in meeting your remaining needs.

It has been some women's unfortunate experience that their doctors are unfamiliar with this phenomenon and deny them any menopausal support on the grounds that because they still have ovaries, those ovaries must be working. If you are in this uncomfortable position, here is some of the documentation that might help you educate your doctor about this outcome.

  • "A number of medical studies have documented that ovarian failure occurs frequently in retained ovaries following a hysterectomy... " (source)
  • "Another worry is that hysterectomy with ovarian conservation may precipitate early menopause. This seems to be supported by a mean age of ovarian failure in hysterectomized women of 45.4 +/- 4.0 years (standard deviation (SD)) as opposed to a mean age of 49.5 +/- 4.04 years in a non-hysterectomized control group (5). According to the same study, the indication for carrying out a hysterectomy did not change the time of ovarian failure. Postal questionnaires sent to hysterectomized women, with ovarian preservation, suggest that 26.1% (8) to 39% show signs of ovarian failure (6). The type of incision appears not to have any bearing on the failure rate (8)." (source)
  • The effect of hysterectomy on the age at ovarian failure: identification of a subgroup of women with premature loss of ovarian function and literature review. (Siddle N; Fertil Steril, 1987 Jan)
  • Riedel HH, et al; Ovarian failure phenomena after hysterectomy. (J Reprod Med, 1986 Jul)
  • Owens S, et al; Ovarian management at the time of radical hysterectomy for cancer of the cervix. (Gynecol Oncol, 1989 Dec)
  • Habelt K, et al; [Symptoms of ovarian failure after hysterectomy in premenopausal women. A retrospective study based on postoperative perception of 245 women] (Zentralbl Gynakol, 1996)
  • Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 113-122, Hysterectomy, Ovarian Failure, and Depression, Gautam Khastgir, MD, FRCS, MRCOG, and John Studd, DSc, MD, FRCOG (abstract)
  • "If a woman has a hysterectomy that leaves her ovaries in place, she has a 50% chance of suffering ovarian failure within five years of surgery. This is not age dependent." (source)
  • Message list posting that cites numerous sources
  • Relation between hysterectomy and subsequent ovarian function in a district hospital population, Quinn, A.J.; Barrett, T., Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Mar94, Vol. 14 Issue 2, p103 (source)
  • Siddle N, Sarrel P, Whitehead M. The effect of hysterectomy on the age at ovarian failure identification of a subgroup of women with premature loss of ovarian function an literature review. Fertil Steril 1987 ; 47 : 94-100. (abstract)