Has your doctor recommended endometrial ablation? Find out what to expect after the procedure and learn more about the potential risks of this procedure.
What is Endometrial Ablation?
Endometrial ablation is a surgical treatment that can help with menstrual symptoms such as heavy periods. The treatment works by destroying the womb lining while leaving the uterus itself intact. Endometrial ablation is therefore a less invasive option than a hysterectomy. However, it will still have a big impact on your body.
The procedure is performed through the cervix, so there won’t be any surgical incisions or stitches. Several different techniques can be used to destroy (or ablate) the womb lining. Your doctor might use heat, cold, or high energy radiofrequencies to do it.
Most of the endometrial tissue that lines the womb will be destroyed. It is this tissue that grows thicker during your menstrual cycle and is then shed when you have your period. After it has been ablated, there will be less material to lose when you have a period. Your periods should get a lot lighter or even stop altogether. Symptoms such as anaemia should also improve.
Common Side Effects
Endometrial ablation is generally a very safe procedure, but just like any other medical treatment there is a small risk of negative side effects. If you had a general anaesthetic during the procedure then you will also have side effects from the medication, which can make you feel drowsy. You shouldn’t drive for at least 24 hours after having a general anaesthetic. Even if you only had a local anaesthetic it’s still a good idea to have someone else take you home after the procedure. You’ll usually be able to go home within a few hours.
While you are recovering you should expect:
- To feel sore and tired for a few days
- Cramping and bleeding for a few days, a bit like having your period
- Watery or bloody discharge for up to three weeks
- Some women experience nausea due to the anaesthetic, it should wear off within a day
- You might feel as if you need to urinate during the first 24 hours, even when you don’t have to go
You should try to take it easy while your body is recovering. You should avoid having sex for at least a few days and make sure that you use pads rather than tampons until the discharge stops. It is also best to avoid strenuous activities, especially lifting heavy things. If you are in pain then over the counter painkillers should be enough to manage it. However, make sure that you don’t take any aspirin as this could make you bleed more.
Most women will feel back to normal in just a few days, although you will still have some discharge after this. It’s a good idea to arrange about a week off work and to ask for some extra help around the home while you’re recovering. You should gradually return to your normal routine as you feel ready.
More Serious Complications
Serious complications are less common, but some women who go through the procedure will experience them.
Endometrial ablation can result in:
- Infection, which could cause symptoms such as fever, chills, or a smelly discharge
- Heavy bleeding (or bleeding that lasts longer than a couple of days)
- Damage to your cervix, uterus or other organs that are nearby such as the bladder and bowel
You should contact your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms, you seem to be losing a lot of blood, or you’re in pain. Any complications you experience after endometrial ablation are usually fairly easy to treat as long as they’re discovered early. For example, an infection can often be cleared with a simple course of antibiotics. However, in some cases it can be a little trickier. If there is damage to your internal organs then you might even need surgery to repair them.
Long Term Effects of Endometrial Ablation
The side effects of endometrial ablation are usually mild and short-lived. However, it is important to understand the longer term effects on your body.
One important point that you should be aware of before having this procedure is that the effects aren’t always permanent. Some women who have endometrial ablation will start getting heavier periods again after a few years. If this happens to you then you may need to return to your gynaecologist to try a different treatment approach.
Another essential point to consider before endometrial ablation is the impact on your fertility. You should not have this procedure if you want to get pregnant in the future. Although endometrial ablation won’t stop you ovulating or affect your ability to conceive, it does make it less likely that an embryo will implant itself in the womb. It also makes pregnancy much riskier, so it’s essential to protect yourself.
You will need to use contraception after the procedure to prevent pregnancy and avoid these risks until you reach the menopause. Having a contraceptive IUS fitted can provide the most reliable long term protection. You might also want to consider sterilisation, which can usually be performed at the same time as the endometrial ablation.
Deciding to Have Endometrial Ablation
Although these risks can sound scary it is important for you to be aware of them before you have endometrial ablation. You should discuss the risks and benefits of the procedure with your gynaecologist so you can make an informed decision about your care. Your doctor might recommend trying other options such as medication first in order to avoid these risks. The risks of endometrial ablation can be higher than for some of the options, such as medication. However, the procedure is still safer than some of the other alternatives, like having a hysterectomy.
It’s also important to think about the benefits of the procedure, including the huge impact that it could have on your mental and physical wellbeing if your menstrual symptoms are relieved.
If you’ve had or are about to have endometrial ablation, what made you decide that the procedure was right for you?