Hysterectomy Does Not Raise Heart Disease Risk, As Previously Thought

Woman's Heart Health
Women who decide to remove their uterus mid-life, with or without removing ovaries, are not at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease as previously thought. Creative Commons

A hysterectomy may not put a woman at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, a new study finds.

The research goes against another large study from 2011 that revealed a hysterectomy could put women at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. However, this recent finding used different criteria to come to the latest conclusion. 

"If women are contemplating hysterectomy, they don't need to be worried about increased cardiovascular risk," Karen Matthews, lead author and professor of epidemiology and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, told HealthDay.

"It is possible that women who have a hysterectomy when they are young have an increase in cardiovascular risk," she noted.

Hysterectomy surgically involves removing the uterus and, in some cases, removing the ovaries to further reduce the chance of developing cancer.

In this study, researchers recruited 3,000 women who specifically underwent a mid-life removal of uterus and ovaries but not because of cancer, and compared their heart risks before and after the procedures to women who had natural menopause.

Afterward, they measured cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar, and insulin resistance, Matthews said.

Investigators found that there were changes to these factors but they were not linked to increased risk of heart disease. Instead, some of the women who had their ovaries and uterus removed gained weight. The changes were similarly experienced across all ethnic groups.

One reason why this study may differ from the past findings could be because the investigators did not recruit women who underwent hysterectomies because of cancer or women who were older. They also speculate that a woman who has a hysterectomy earlier rather than later are at a greater risk of heart disease. 

Previously, the Swedish researchers that conducted a prolonged, multi-ethnic study of women who decided to have the uterus removed for reasons beside cancer found that these women had a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the top killer of women today.

The researchers specifically found that these woman had a 20 percent greater risk of developing disease compared to those who kept their uterus and ovaries.

"Hysterectomy itself is a really safe procedure," Daniel Altman, senior researcher of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, told Reuters at the time. "But some surgeries can be associated with risks that don't immediately show up, rather raising risks in the long term. That's something to at least consider before doing something irreversible," Altman added.

In most cases, uterine fibroids, which are nodules of smooth muscles cells, develop along the walls of the womb and are the number one reason why many women undergo hysterectomies.

According to the National Women's Health Information Center, the nodules result in 150,000 to 175,000 hysterectomies, while 18 percent of cases are due to endometriosis, a condition that causes pain and sometimes infertility.

Sources: American College of Cardiology

Matthews KA, and others. Changes in cardiovascular risk factors by hysterectomy status with and without oophorectomy: Study of Women's Health Across the Nation. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2013.

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