Women who have a hysterectomy - the surgical procedure that removes the female's uterus - in mid-life do not appear to have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, researchers found.

Although the procedure is commonly done, previous research discovered that hysterectomies might increase a woman's risk for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in American women. However, according to a new long-term research study published online today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, hysterectomies might actually not affect a woman's risk for heart disease.

"Middle-aged women who are considering hysterectomy should be encouraged because our results suggest that increased levels of cardiovascular risk factors are not any more likely after hysterectomy relative to after natural menopause," said Karen A. Matthews, PhD, lead author of the study and a distinguished professor of psychiatry and professor of epidemiology and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Investigators followed 3,302 premenopausal women between the ages of 42-52 for 11 years who were enrolled in the Study of Women's Health across the Nation (SWAN). Researchers compared cardiovascular disease risk factors in women prior to and following elective hysterectomy with or without ovary removal to the risk factors prior to and following final menstrual period in women who underwent natural menopause.

Patients' lifestyle factors, medication use and menopausal status were tracked. Women were categorized as premenopausal (including early perimenopause), perimenopausal (late perimenopause), unknown or missing.

In this study, premenopause meant having a period in the last three months with no previous menstrual cycle irregularity.

By 2008, 1,769 women reached menopause naturally. At the same time, 77 women had had a hysterectomy with their ovaries preserved and 106 women had had the procedure with their ovaries removed.

According to the study, there were few women in their study who had had a hysterectomy and their ovaries removed, and the findings could not be generalized to younger women since they only studied older premenopausal women.

The impact of surgery in the long term also was not assessed.