Cesarean Hysterectomy

Updated: Jan 11, 2021
Author: Meredith L Birsner, MD; Chief Editor: Carl V Smith, MD 



Cesarean hysterectomy refers to removal of the uterus at the time of cesarean delivery. It is a technically challenging procedure owing to the anatomic and physiologic changes of pregnancy, including a massive increase in blood flow to the uterus at term. The surgery’s dramatic nature stems from the fact that it is frequently performed in emergent, unplanned situations when a mother’s life is in danger and because it permanently ends future fertility. The procedure is unfortunately becoming more common largely owing to the rising primary cesarean delivery rate in the United States.

Postpartum hysterectomy refers to hysterectomy done either after vaginal delivery or cesarean delivery skin closure after cesarean section, whereas cesarean hysterectomy is done in the same surgical case as cesarean delivery. Postpartum hysterectomies are largely unplanned and often done on an emergent basis for obstetric hemorrhage or undiagnosed abnormal placentation. See the image below.

Vaginal birth after cesarean delivery rates. Vaginal birth after cesarean delivery rates.


The uterus consists of 3 layers: endometrium (the inside lining), myometrium (muscular layer, the bulk of the uterine weight), and serosa (thin surface covering, separating the uterus from other organs). See the images below.

The female reproductive organs. The female reproductive organs.
The uterine blood supply. The uterine blood supply.

Normally, the placenta attaches to the uterus via specialized endometrium for the exchange of various nutrients between mother and fetus during pregnancy. Once the fetus delivers, the placenta separates and the uterus contracts down and shrinks in size. Cessation of bleeding requires the myometrial layer to contract down tightly to close off the special uterine vessels (spiral arteries) that grew during pregnancy and to decrease the surface area exposed on the inside of the uterus where the placenta was attached (placental bed).

The most common indication for cesarean hysterectomy is abnormal placentation,[1] which is most commonly diagnosed when the placenta fails to separate from the underlying tissue. Various degrees of abnormal placentation are noted: placenta accreta (adherence of the placenta to myometrium), increta (invasion through myometrium), and percreta (invasion all the way through the myometrium into serosa, frequently into the bladder). Risk factors for abnormal placentation include prior cesarean delivery, placenta previa, and prior uterine surgery including myomectomy (fibroid removal) and curettage (see the image below).

Fibroid uterus. (Photo courtesy of M Behera, MD.) Fibroid uterus. (Photo courtesy of M Behera, MD.)

Abnormal placentation may be suspected prior to delivery based on ultrasonography or MRI or based on risk factors, but it can also be encountered unexpectedly at delivery. More than half of cases of placenta previa-accreta are not diagnosed before delivery.[2]

Another indication for cesarean hysterectomy is postpartum hemorrhage,[3] which most commonly results from uterine atony (failure of the uterus to contract into a firm muscle after delivery of the placenta). Several uterotonic medications are available to control obstetric hemorrhage, and several procedures may be used when medications fail, such as balloon tamponade (ie, Bakri balloon) as well as bilateral uterine artery ligation (ie, O’Leary sutures) or compression sutures (eg, B-Lynch suture. If these measures fail and the mother continues to hemorrhage, hysterectomy is often the next step.

Bilateral internal iliac (hypogastric) artery ligation may also be attempted prior to performing a hysterectomy or to control continued bleeding after a hysterectomy; however, this procedure is difficult and requires a highly skilled surgeon. Uterine artery embolization, performed by interventional radiology, is another option that may be considered to reduce bleeding in a stable patient if facilities are available.

An uncommon indication for cesarean hysterectomy is cancer, such as cervical cancer and endometrial cancer.[4] Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in pregnancy[1] and is managed either with radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery, and in certain instances, a gynecologic oncologist may advise hysterectomy at the time of cesarean delivery to minimize the number of times a woman is under anesthesia and also remove the cancer in a timely fashion.


The only absolute contraindication to cesarean hysterectomy is refusal of the procedure by the mother. This is rare as most cases are done for emergent or life-saving reasons.


Periprocedural Care

Patient Education & Consent

Consent begins when a mother is admitted for childbirth. Getting consent from admitted patients for intrapartum and postpartum care is standard. The mother should be aware of the potential complications of childbirth such as hemorrhage and the measures typically used to stop hemorrhage, including hysterectomy in severe situations. When abnormal placentation is suspected earlier in pregnancy, discussion about potential cesarean hysterectomy should begin during antenatal visits. Mothers undergoing planned cesarean hysterectomy should be counseled in the office regarding risks of surgery and indications. They should be aware that they cannot carry future children after hysterectomy.

Pre-Procedure Planning

Surgical preparation

Preoperative laboratory studies

Most mothers have a complete blood cell (CBC) count and blood type obtained upon routine admission. If a hysterectomy is planned, additional laboratory work may be obtained, including coagulation studies and basic metabolic panel, and the hospital blood bank should be called to prepare blood products matched specifically for that mother.

Venous access

Venous access is extremely important for surgery so that fluids and blood products (red blood cells [RBCs], platelets, fresh frozen plasma) may be transfused to resuscitate a mother in the event of massive bleeding. If hemorrhage is a preoperative concern, anesthesiologists usually prefer 2 sites of peripheral intravenous access (far away from the heart, such as in hands or arms) but may prefer larger intravenous access sites (central lines) to allow more rapid infusion of vital fluids. If the decision is made during cesarean surgery to proceed with hysterectomy, additional intravenous access is usually secured by anesthesiologists. The surgeon must actively communicate with the anesthesiologist as the mother’s situation changes.

Blood product availability

Blood products including packed RBCs, fresh frozen plasma, and platelets should be immediately available for a planned or suspected cesarean hysterectomy. Most labor and delivery units have a massive transfusion protocol that can be activated in the event of unexpected obstetric hemorrhage such as that which can prompt cesarean hysterectomy.

In a 2014 report, rates of intraoperative/postoperative RBC transfusion for cesarean hysterectomy were similar for women with placenta increta and those with placenta percreta, as were rates of transfusion with fresh frozen plasma or platelets.[5] However, perioperative outcomes were worse for women with placenta percreta, including a higher proportion who underwent cystostomy and postoperative mechanical ventilation.

Cell salvage of autologous blood may be an option for transfusion in women undergoing cesarean hysterectomy for placenta accreta.[6] In a 2013 prospective observational study comprising 15 of 20 women with an antenatal diagnosis of placenta accreta who underwent cesarean hysterectomy and received autologous blood after cell salvage, 13 (86.7%) did not require allogeneic RBC transfusion. No intraoperative or postoperative amniotic fluid embolism, hypotension, sepsis, or coagulopathy occurred.[6]

Appropriate medical facilities

If abnormal placentation is diagnosed prior to delivery and a cesarean hysterectomy is planned, surgery should take place at a tertiary care center with a blood bank, dedicated obstetric anesthesiologists, surgical subspecialists including gynecologic oncologists, and an interventional radiology suite. A multidisciplinary care team dedicated to cesarean hysterectomy may improve maternal outcomes.


Additional instruments should be added to the cesarean surgical field when a hysterectomy is undertaken. Various self-retaining retractors are available to increase exposure to organs near the uterus, and the choice of retractor is surgeon-dependent. Heavy-duty clamps such as the Heaney or Haney-Ballantine are needed and are frequently contained in a surgical tray specifically loaded for an abdominal hysterectomy. Newer handheld electronic vessel-sealing devices, adapted for abdominal surgery from minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, may also be used at the surgeon’s discretion if available.


The anesthesiologist is a crucial member of the care team for a mother undergoing cesarean hysterectomy. Venous access must be secured as above. Additionally, a mother who has an epidural or spinal may need to receive general anesthesia (via intubation or breathing tube) if the surgical conditions change and the anesthesiologist is concerned about a mother’s airway or breathing capacity. Pregnant women in general have an airway that is more edematous than normal, and maintaining an open airway is paramount for oxygen delivery to a mother.


Cesarean deliveries normally are performed with the mother in dorsal supine position (laying down with legs flat on table). A pillow wedge is usually placed under the mother’s right torso, producing a leftward tilt, which alleviates pressure from the uterus on a large vein (inferior vena cava), increasing blood return to the heart and thus oxygen delivery to both mother and fetus. A hysterectomy can be performed in this position; however, if imaging of the urinary tract is required at the end of a hysterectomy or access to the vagina is required, the mother must be carefully moved into the dorsal lithotomy position during the procedure. Therefore, if a hysterectomy is planned or suspicion is high, place the mother in dorsal lithotomy position (laying down with legs in padded stirrups) prior to the procedure so the vagina or urethra are accessible during surgery if necessary.

Position the mother properly before starting the surgery because once skin cleansing and draping occurs, repositioning the mother without contaminating the sterile field is difficult. A drape with a collecting bag may be placed under the patient to collect blood loss from the vagina. This assists in a more accurate assessment of blood loss.

Monitoring & Follow-up

The pace of diet resumption depends on what was encountered during surgery. If the bowel is damaged during surgery, a mother’s diet is slowly advanced. Usually, mothers after surgery start with a liquid diet and then progress to solid food when they can tolerate a liquid diet without any nausea or vomiting. Surgeons prefer passage of flatus (gas) prior to discharge home though a bowel movement is not necessary prior to discharge.

If nausea with or without vomiting develops while the mother is recovering in the hospital, she may be evaluated for an ileus or small bowel obstruction using abdominal radiography or CT scanning. Ileus occurs when the bowels slow down or stop working from manipulation during surgery or from narcotics, and small bowel obstruction can occur after ileus or from scarring or adhesions inside the abdomen from surgery. A nasogastric tube (NGT) may need to be placed through a mother’s nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach, to help decompress the bowels and remove fluid in event of an ileus or bowel obstruction.

Discharge medications

When a mother is discharged home, she is usually given prescriptions for narcotic and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) medications to assist with the pain relief that is expected after major abdominal surgery. If a mother remains anemic prior to discharge home, she may additionally be prescribed ferrous sulfate (iron).

Care after discharge from hospital

Mothers are asked to present to the outpatient office for a postoperative evaluation, usually by 6 weeks postpartum but possibly sooner depending on the mother’s clinical situation. For example, a mother with postpartum depression should be seen sooner, as should a mother who has complications after surgery. Assistance with lactation may be offered either in the hospital or as an outpatient in the form of a lactation consultant.



Approach Considerations

If a cesarean hysterectomy is planned, the best abdominal entry technique is via midline vertical incision. This allows retractor placement and optimizes exposure to nearby organs and may facilitate access to the upper abdomen. This incision is in general preferable to the Pfannenstiel or low transverse (“bikini cut”) incision most commonly used by obstetricians for cesarean delivery due to the limited exposure afforded by this incision. In rare emergent circumstances, a low transverse incision may need to be converted to a midline vertical incision to enhance exposure, resulting in an inverted T-shaped incision, which is more difficult to close, more painful, less cosmetically acceptable, and may result in a longer recovery time.

Although a hysterectomy can be done laparoscopically or vaginally when performed for gynecologic reasons, a cesarean hysterectomy is only performed through an abdominal incision.

Best Practices

After entry into the abdominal cavity, a typical cesarean delivery is performed. In the case of a suspected placenta percreta, the uterine incision is typically made in a location to avoid the placental edge. Intraoperative ultrasound may be used. After the baby is delivered, the next step is typically delivery of the placenta, which is often when the bleeding occurs. Ordinarily, the placenta easily detaches. If the placenta delivers easily but heavy bleeding or uterine atony is present, medications is administered to stimulate the uterus to contract.

If medications fail to stop the bleeding, bilateral uterine artery ligation (O’Leary sutures) can be performed.[3] This involves finding an avascular area of the broad ligament, perforating it with a large needle and thick gauge suture, and “lasso-ing” the vessel by anchoring the suture into of the uterine myometrium. When performed bilaterally, blood flow to the uterus is reduced. If uterine atony is refractory to these measures, a B-lynch compression suture can be performed[1] ; this is akin to putting binding “suspenders” on the uterus to manually contract it down. If this suture fails to stop bleeding, other measures need to be considered including interventional radiology if readily available, although hysterectomy is often the next step.

If the placenta does not detach with gentle traction, placenta accreta should be suspected and the anesthesiologist and family should be informed, and the hysterectomy should proceed as below. Forcibly detaching an abnormally adherent placenta can have serious consequences usually involving heavy blood loss and damage to nearby organs. After recognizing that the placenta is not detaching, it is kept inside the uterus and the uterine incision is quickly sutured closed using a single running layer with a large suture (ie, loop Maxon) to decrease bleeding prior to starting the hysterectomy.

A self-retaining retractor (Bookwalter, Balfour, O’Connor-O’Sullivan) may be placed at this point to improve visualization.

The hysterectomy may be performed using the standard steps. However, if bleeding is severe, the steps may be performed without suturing/tying off the pedicles (ie, leaving clamps in place) until the uterine arteries have been clamped and bleeding significantly slows. Multiple clamps need to be available.

To begin the standard hysterectomy, the round ligament is identified, clamped (Kocher, Kelly, Heaney clamps), divided, suture ligated, and suspended for traction. The broad ligament is opened with electrocautery; its anterior leaf is opened medially towards the bladder flap (if made during the cesarean delivery) or along the vesicouterine fold, which separates the bladder peritoneum from the lower segment of the uterus. The bladder is then “dissected off” the lower uterine segment (if not done during the cesarean section). The posterior leaf is opened with electrocautery parallel to the infundibulopelvic ligament which contains the large blood vessels that feed the ovaries. Care must be taken to properly identify and protect the ureters as they run parallel to the infundibulopelvic ligament.

The next step is to free the ovaries from the uterus so they are not removed during the hysterectomy. An avascular area is identified in the posterior leaf of the broad ligament and perforated with electrocautery; this is the hole through which the Kelly clamps are advanced. Usually, 2-3 clamps are placed. A long Kelly clamp is placed on the cornu (horn) of the uterus, engulfing the uteroovarian ligament, which attaches the adnexa (tubes and ovary) to the uterus. A second clamp (some providers place 2 clamps laterally) is placed lateral to this clamp, avoiding ovarian tissue. The tissue between the medial and lateral clamps is divided, and the pedicles are suture ligated or a free tie is placed followed by a transfixing suture. The lateral clamp(s) is then removed. The clamp on the cornu is typically left in place to control back bleeding and for traction. This procedure is done on both left and right sides.

Next, the uterine arteries need to be isolated and ligated. The uterine arteries are palpable and enlarged due to the pregnancy. To find the uterine arteries, the tissue surrounding the uterine vessels (parametrium) is delicately “skeletonized” anteriorly until the uterine arteries are identified. Either 1-2 curved clamps (Heaney or Masterson) are placed so that the curved end is perpendicular to the vessels and the vessels are clamped in their entirety. One clamp is often preferred to reduce the chances of injuring the ureter. See the image below.

Relation of the uterine artery to the ureter durin Relation of the uterine artery to the ureter during hysterectomy.

A straight clamp (Kocher or Masterson) is placed medially to this clamp to reduce back bleeding from the uterus. The vessels are then transected such that the straight clamp is left on the uterus and the curved clamp(s) remains on the uterine arteries. Next, the uterine arteries are suture ligated either once or twice at the surgeon’s discretion. The Heaney clamp is then removed. This procedure is done on both left and right sides.

Next, the cardinal and uterosacral ligaments are sequentially clamped, cut, and suture ligated. This is done by advancing a straight clamp downward towards the cervix and vagina, parallel and immediately adjacent to the cervix to prevent damage to the nearby ureter. This “marching down” continues until either the cervix or vagina is reached.

If the surgeon decides to not remove the cervix, fewer bites are required and the hysterectomy is called “supracervical.” In a supracervical hysterectomy, the uterine fundus is “amputated,” often with cautery or scissors, and the remaining part of the cervix (stump) may be sutured closed.

This is often the type of hysterectomy performed during a cesarean hysterectomy. Frequently, particularly if the woman labored and the cervix is dilated and effaced, it is difficult to elucidate the anatomy. To assist in identifying anatomy, some surgeons prefer to “tag” the cervix, either by placing a ring forceps on the anterior lip of the cervix or placing a suture on the cervix. If the cervix is removed with the uterus, the hysterectomy is called “total.” To remove the cervix, the vagina is entered sharply near the level of the external cervical os. Heaney clamps are placed at the left and right corners (cuff angles). Care needs to be taken to not excessively shorten the vagina. The specimen consisting of the uterus and cervix is removed by sharply cutting along the vaginal edges. Next, the vaginal cuff is closed using figure-of-eight sutures.

Finally, the mother’s pelvis is irrigated with warm saline and the vaginal cuff and adnexa are inspected for bleeding. If no bleeding is observed, the abdomen can be closed.

Many surgeons prior to abdomen closure perform cystourethroscopy, using a cystoscope, to ensure that the ureters (which connect the kidneys to the bladder) have not been harmed during surgery. Indigo carmine, an intravenous blue dye, is administered to the mother and after a few minutes, the urine becomes blue. With the cystoscope in the bladder, the openings of the ureters into the bladder (ureteral orifices) are identified, and when the blue dye is seen streaming vigorously into the bladder, the surgeon can feel confident that the ureters remain open on both sides.

If placenta percreta with invasion into the bladder is a preoperative concern, a cystourethroscopy may be performed prior to opening the abdomen for the cesarean section, and if placenta is visualized invading into the bladder, additional specialists maybe called to the operating room for bladder reconstruction if necessary. If confident that the ureters were not injured and cystourethroscopy is not performed, retrograde filling of the bladder with approximately 200-300 mL of saline and methylene blue can evaluate bladder integrity.

Complications and Outcome

Possible complications after cesarean hysterectomy include infections, bleeding, urinary tract injury to the bladder or ureters.[7] Infections can occur in the abdominal wound or within the abdomen and pelvis, as well as in the urinary tract due to catheter presence. Fever after surgery can indicate the presence of infection and should be thoroughly investigated. The urinary tract can be evaluated during surgery and if injured, repair is be performed immediately and the bladder catheter may remain in place after surgery for several days.

If a hysterectomy is performed for uncontrolled uterine bleeding after delivery, the mother could experience disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a life-threatening bleeding condition that occurs after significant blood loss, which can make controlling the bleeding very difficult. DIC requires transfusion of multiple blood products; although it is managed primarily by the anesthesia team, it can make surgery difficult due to the mother’s propensity to spontaneously bleed from multiple surfaces simultaneously. Even if a mother does not experience DIC, blood product transfusion during and or after cesarean hysterectomy is common.

Prevention of venous thromboembolism (VTE) is extremely important following hysterectomy because pregnancy and major surgery are risk factors for development of life threatening blood clots in the leg veins and pulmonary arteries (pulmonary emboli).[8]  Mothers are strongly encouraged to continuously wear sequential compression device (SCD) boots while recovering in bed soon after surgery and may be offered compression stockings as well. Certain mothers with additional risk factors such as obesity may be offered blood-thinning medication as added protection against blood clots.

Length of stay in the hospital after surgery depends on the circumstances of the surgery (emergent or planned) and primarily on the mother’s medical condition. If a mother is admitted to a surgical ICU after surgery, her discharge home will likely be extended by several days beyond the average 3-4 day stay after cesarean section. Complications usually delay discharge home.


Laboratory Medicine

Laboratory Medicine Summary

The morning after surgery, mothers usually have blood drawn for a complete blood cell count and basic metabolic panel to assess for anemia, electrolyte disturbances, and kidney function.