Recovering after a hysterectomy: 12 dos and don'ts to stay healthy

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A hysterectomy is major surgery. When scheduling your surgical appointment, make sure you have decided...

A hysterectomy is major surgery. When scheduling your surgical appointment, make sure you have decided to take several weeks off work and a physician-mandated lifting restriction so your body can heal properly.

After a hysterectomy, a full recovery will have you enjoying your favorite physical activities in two weeks to two months.

1. Don't starting walking too soon
The surgical incision from an abdominal hysterectomy is very sensitive and tender for the first two to three days. Stay in bed and relax. You may have to stay at the hospital for three or more days. If you are released the day after your surgery, plan to have a friend, family member or daycare help with childcare. This is also a great time to have family assist with meal preparation and daily chores since your mobility is limited to going to the restroom.

2. Do exercise while resting
To keep your muscles toned and increase your energy levels, do gentle exercises from your bed. Ankle rolls reduce swelling and lifting small weights can keep your arms toned. Avoid any exercises that require bending at the waist or sitting up. Talk with your doctor about Kegel exercises to strengthen vaginal muscles.

3. Don't dismiss recovery medications
Your doctor will prescribe pain-killing medications and possibly an antibiotic to reduce the risk of infection after your surgery. Have a family member help you take these medicines on time. A lapse in painkillers can leave you feeling extremely uncomfortable and unable to sleep.

4. Do increase movement after day three
With your doctor's approval, it's normal to start walking around the house and doing small movements by the third day after your surgery. Bending and squatting are still restricted, but spending time outside getting fresh air and going for short walks will improve your mood and health.

5. Don't venture out alone
Although you're starting to feel better, ask someone else to drive and be with you at all times. Your mobility is limited and shouldn't be overly strained right away. It's best to enjoy areas around your home. Sit on a porch, relax in the sun on a patio or visit a nearby neighbor.

6. Do consider hormone replacement therapy
Talk with your doctor about taking medications to balance your hormones. This can ease the mood swings and hot flashes associated with menopause--which will occur after your surgery if your ovaries were removed. If your ovaries remain intact, you won't experience menopause until your body naturally reaches this turning point.

7. Don't bend or lift
Your doctor will let you know when you can return to normal physical activity. This may be as short as two weeks for a vaginal hysterectomy, or as long as two months if your hysterectomy was an abdominal surgery. Instead, ask for help around the house or consider recovering at a short-term rehabilitation center.

8. Do use topical ointments on scars
If you had abdominal surgery, consider using topical ointments to lighten the scar near your bikini line. Your doctor can prescribe skin-lighting creams. Or go natural and try cocoa butter to smooth the healing skin. Coconut oil can soften the scar tissue. Plus, coconut is a natural antibacterial and wards off infection.

9. Don't skip check-up appointments
Although your scar appears to be healing properly and you feel good, don't neglect doctors appointments during your recovery. If your hysterectomy was due to medical issues, your doctor will do follow-up blood tests to watch for internal infections and perform physical exams to make sure the healing process is going as planned.

10. Do resume sexual relations
Most women get the approval of a gynecologist to become intimate within six weeks after a hysterectomy, according to WebMD. Since your abdominal organs have shifted, it's best to explore sexual contact slowly. What was once a favorite position may now be uncomfortable. Don't get discouraged. Think of this as a chance to experiment and revitalize your sex life.

11. Don't dismiss new symptoms
After the surgery, you may encounter new medical issues. Let your doctor know if you start to experience urinary incontinence, problems with your bowel movements, pain during sexual relations or general pelvic weakness.

12. Do seek mental support
Having a hysterectomy is not only a physical change, but can also weigh heavily on your emotions. Talk with your local Atlanta-area gynecologist about group counseling or individual therapy sessions to discuss the changes in your body, the option of adopting future children and how to regulate hormones as you go through menopause.

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