What is a hysterectomy? Here’s everything you need to know about Lena Dunham’s recent surgery

Real talk: our bodies sometimes freak us out. If you’re a person with female reproductive organs, we know you feel us. The vagina, the uterus, the ovaries — they are all so delicate. But, like, strong, too. They’re a part of us, and yet at times they feel alien. They can provide us joy (bundles of them, in fact), but they can — and do — bring the pain, too.

And what’s worse, when it comes to understanding our options should a serious reproductive health issue arise, there’s even more mystery. Case in point: the hysterectomy.

We know it’s common. The second most common surgery among U.S. women, in fact. Every year, nearly 500,000 of us get one. But what is a hysterectomy? Why would we need one?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone if you’re scratching your head over this one. If you’re like us, you probably read that Lena Dunham has a hysterectomy to relieve her endometriosis pain recently and thought, “Whaaa…?” (FYI: Endometriosis is a painful disorder in which your inner uterine lining grows outside the uterus. Often, people mistake the pain caused by endometriosis as period pain. As a result, the condition goes undiagnosed. Even by medical professionals.)

For Dunham, a hysterectomy was her last chance at relief after years of experiencing crippling endometriotic pain.


Dunham’s doctors performed a total hysterectomy. That is, they removed all of Dunham’s uterus as well as her cervix. This is the most common type of hysterectomy, but not the only kind. The second type, called a partial hysterectomy, removes just the upper part of the uterus and leaves the cervix in tact. The third, a radical hysterectomy, is often administered to patients with certain types of cancer and removes everything including some of the vagina.


So why would we need a hysterectomy?

You may require a hysterectomy if you suffer from non-cancerous growths in the wall of the uterus called uterine fibroids. Or if your uterus slips into your vagina. (Yes, this is a thing. It’s called a uterine prolapse.) Or if you have endometriosis, adenmyosis (like endometriosis, but the extra tissue grows inside the uterus), or cancer down there.


Starting to freak out again? Don’t.

Just because you have one of these conditions, it does not mean you must have a hysterectomy. There may be plenty of ways to treat your problem without undergoing surgery. Doctors may recommend pelvic floor exercises (like Kegels), prescribe medication, minor surgery, or suggest science fiction-inspired ultrasound technology. So it’s important to talk to your doctor about all the treatment options available to you.

Mystery solved. Feel better? We hope so.

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