Hysterectomies: are they really necessary?

By the time they reach 60 one fifth of British women have had their womb removed, but according to recent research 75 per cent of hysterectomies could be unnecessary.

  • In the year 2000 to 2001 there were 62,391 hysterectomies performed on the NHS with plenty more in the private sector.

Maryon Stewart, author and founder of the Natural Health Advisory Service, believes the percentage of unnecessary hysterectomies to be even higher.

‘I have treated thousands of women nutritionally whose wombs were removed without a valid medical reason.

‘Many who have problems with their uterus are not informed about what surgery involves and are told afterwards that their ovaries have been removed as well, triggering early menopause, loss of libido, and increased risk of osteoporosis. They often become a shadow of their former self without any warning.

‘It’s so final that it’s an atrocity. Obviously if someone has cancer it is necessary, but for the vast majority of people this isn’t the case.

CASE STUDY: Early hysterectomy

Fortunately for Rosanna Haslam, 35 year old events organiser of Marden, Kent, she had her two children early. At the age of 30 the only solution she was offered to relieve her heavy bleeding during and between her periods, was to have a hysterectomy. ‘At the time I just wanted to get rid of the problem so I went ahead with the operation.

For the first three years it was marvellous, but then in my early 30s I started having dreadful menopausal symptoms – hot flushes, sore breasts, itchy skin, clumsiness, and depression. Fortunately I went to the Natural Health Advisory Service and went on a stringent diet, so I got through the menopause and now I’m fine.

‘But I can’t help feeling that it aged me having such an early menopause. My body felt older than it should have done. When I met Maryon Stewart I realised there were alternatives to a hysterectomy but I hadn’t been told about them.’

THE ALTERNATIVES: Endometrial ablation

Dr Mike Maresh of the St Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children in Manchester led the research which found that three-quarters of hysterectomies were unnecessary. His team looked at 37,298 hysterectomies carried out between 1994 and 1995.

Half of the women were suffering from heavy periods and for these women Dr Maresh believes that the alternative lies in endometrial ablation, where the lining of the womb is removed, but not the womb itself.

  • More than 10,000 endometrial ablations are performed each year;
  • Afterwards periods are reduced or completely stopped, so it is not suitable for women who still want children.
  • It takes just 30 minutes, women frequently go home the same night, can be back at work in 48 hours and suffer few complications.

Hysterectomy, however, is a major operation: 

  • It entails a four to six day hospital stay;
  • About six to 12 weeks’ recovery time;
  • It brings on menopause, can induce depression and puts an end to having children.
  • Nor is the operation without risks – 14 women died in the space of six weeks during the period researched by Dr Maresh.

THE ALTERNATIVES: Uterine artery embolisation

  • About 30,000 of the hysterectomies performed every year are believed to be due to fibroids which often cause heavy bleeding as well;
  • A third of women develop fibroids that are not dangerous but can bleed or cause discomfort if they get too large.

For women with fibroids who want to remain fertile, Dr Woodruff Walker, Consultant Diagnostic and Interventional Radiologist at the Royal Surrey Hospital, Guildford, Surrey, believes that uterine artery embolisation is the answer.

This method involves injecting fibroids with a solution which makes them shrink. The operation takes about one hour, and requires two nights in hospital and two to three weeks recuperating.

CASE STUDY: Uterine Artery Embolisation

Beth Colbourne, 32, a policewoman from Northwich, Cheshire, used to bleed almost all the time. ‘I had a car accident and there was no proven link but afterwards I started bleeding for 28 out of every 30 days. The bleeding was so heavy I used a packet of tampons a day and towels at night which I had to keep changing, but I wasn’t in pain’

Her gynaecologist told Beth that she had fibroids at the back of her womb, and put her on ‘Zoladex’, a drug which stops everything functioning, shrinks the fibroids but also brings on early menopause. ‘I was on 1,000 mg of iron a day because I was so anaemic and in the summer of 1998 I had three blood transfusions.

‘Eventually the gynaecologist decided the drugs weren’t working. He was concerned that they would make me infertile and that I might end up having a hysterectomy.’

Beth went to see Dr Woodruff Walker at the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford who carried out a uterine artery embolisation under local anaesthetic, ‘The pain was excruciating but I stopped bleeding straight away, and four weeks later I had a period and became quite regular again.’ Nearly two years after the operation Beth and her partner, Conroy, had a little girl called Adassa.

Nutritional changes can help

A number of the women Maryon Stewart sees at the NHAS have been told that they need a hysterectomy usually because of heavy bleeding and/or fibroids.

‘Initially we reassure them that they are not alone and their condition is treatable and that we expect them to be symptom free in just four months,’ Maryon explains. 

Maryon’s recommendations include:

  • A diet free of caffeine and sugar;
  • A maximum of three units of alcohol a week;
  • Three square meals a day with two non-sugary snacks in between;
  • Lots of herbal tea and water;
  • Multi-vitamins specially designed to put back the nutrients which have been lost.

‘Women with heavy periods have abnormal hormone function which is improved by fish oils and the herbs, Agnus Castus and Red Clover.’ Maryon Stewart.

CASE STUDY: Nutrition

Mother of two, 39 year old Lorraine Kirkpatrick, a partner in a heating firm, from Darvel, East Ayrshire, had been told by her doctor and gynaecologist that she should have a hysterectomy. ‘After I was sterilised three years ago I started to flood for five days during each period. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, I had to wear both tampons and towels and change them every hour. Each time I was going away on holiday I went to the GP and was given some tablets, Noretsisterone, to stop my period while I was away.

‘However the tablets made me seriously depressed and my GP tried to insist on giving me anti-depressants and told me she had referred me for a hysterectomy, neither of which I wanted. ‘In desperation I phoned Maryon Stewart at the Natural Health Advisory Service. She reassured me that I could get through this with the right diet and regular exercise, and she sent me five health supplements straight away.

‘She suggested that I cut out wheat, oats, rye and barley, but that I have plenty of milk and yoghurt, fruit, vegetables and soups, chicken, rice and baked potatoes. I drank decaffeinated coffee and water, and only the occasional glass of alcohol.

‘On my visit to the gynaecologist, I was given three options – a three monthly injection, an endometrial ablation or a hysterectomy. He didn’t accept no for an answer, but my husband and I felt I was doing so well on the diet that I would continue with it. ‘After six months the difference was amazing. My periods had lightened up, although two days are still quite heavy there is no flooding and I feel well and happy.’

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Natural Health Advisory Service Ltd, 01273 487366,  www.naturalhealthas.com

CASE STUDY: Chinese herbal medicine

After several years of painful periods and various health problems Rizwana Ansari, a 36 year old single student from Ilford, Essex, decided to try Chinese medicine. ‘I had seen 10 doctors including endocronologists and gynaecologists who had discovered I had an underactive thyroid, endometriosis, where the lining of the womb breaks away, and fibroids.

‘The fibroids made my periods incredibly painful so I was put on the pill to help me.Unfortunately I had terrible side-effects with dizziness and vomiting and numbness in my arm, and even when I’d taken myself off the pill I got deep vein thrombosis on a flight.

‘The Chinese doctor at the Chi Centre in London told me that I had too much oestrogen in my system, so the pill that  provides oestrogen was feeding the problem. She took both my pulses, looked at my tongue and took a very detailed medical history. She gave me a variety of herbs to take home and boil up daily into a tea which I had to drink twice a day.

‘After three weeks of drinking the herbs I went to see the gynaecologist who checked my hormones and found they were completely normal. I requested a second scan and found that my fibroids had become much smaller. Now I have about three bad periods a year where the pain lasts for a couple of days, but the rest of the time they aren’t very painful.’

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