SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA. Each year more than 600,000 women in the United States have a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the womb). By the age of 60 years about 40 per cent of all American women have undergone a hysterectomy. Almost 90 per cent of these surgical procedures are done for benign disorders and most come under the label "elective surgery". Serious complications arise in about 10 per cent of all operations and the mortality rate is about six women per 10,000 hysterectomies.
Researchers at the University of California and Stanford University recently set
out to investigate if there is any association between the development of
urinary incontinence and having undergone a hysterectomy. They reviewed the
medical literature on the subject published between 1966 and 1997 and found 12
major studies that reported an association between urinary incontinence and
hysterectomy. The researchers conclude that the prevalence of urinary
incontinence among women 60 years and older is 40 to 80 per cent higher among
women who have undergone a hysterectomy than among women who have not. They
also point out that other studies have shown that women who undergo any kind of
genital surgery increase their risk of later developing urinary incontinence by
about 60 per cent. The researchers believe that hysterectomy may damage pelvic
nerves or supportive structures and ultimately lead to incontinence. They
recommend that women considering a hysterectomy should be told that incontinence
may be a possible long-term adverse effect.