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Hysterectomies Do Pose Some Risks

January 01, 1991|SHARI ROAN

Doctors often downplay the surgical dangers of hysterectomies, says Dr. Herbert A. Goldfarb, author of a new book, "The No-Hysterectomy Option."

Of the 1 million hysterectomies performed each year in North America, about 2,000 women die and another 240,000 experience complications.

Dr. Mark Chassin, senior vice president of Value Health Sciences, a Santa Monica-based health utilization research firm that has studied medical requirements for hysterectomy, agrees with Goldfarb.

"I think the risks tend to be understated. The risk of death following hysterectomy is not communicated with a degree of definitiveness," he says.

"That's not to mention the possible complications and the long-term (side effects) that often go completely undiscussed. What are you going to feel like in a year with your uterus gone? I don't think those questions get enough attention."

Hysterectomies, which usually cost at least $10,000, require at least five days of hospitalization and six weeks of recovery at home.

While some women appreciate no longer having a menstrual period or worrying about birth control, research has shown that others suffer serious side effects from the loss of uterus-produced hormones: psychological problems, increased risk of bone loss and heart attack, urinary problems and decreased sexual desire. These problems can be compounded if the ovaries also are removed with the uterus, which is common.

Goldfarb, who practices medicine in Montclair, N.J., says he does not believe that all women are happy with the outcome of a hysterectomy.

"Most physicians tell me they only have happy patients," he says. "I don't think that's true. I think the unhappy patients either don't tell them or don't come back to see them again."

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