What Are The Side Effects of a Surgical Abortion?

Understanding the risks is vital when you’re having any kind of medical procedure. If you’re considering a surgical abortion then it’s important for you to know what to expect and what might go wrong.

Surgical Abortion Procedures

The two main types of surgical abortion that are available in London are:

  • Manual Vacuum Aspiration: gentle suction is used to remove the contents of the womb through the cervix
  • Surgical Termination of Pregnancy (STOP) by Dilation and Curettage: medication is used to open up the cervix and the womb contents are surgically removed

Both of these procedures are very safe, but you will experience some bleeding, cramps and other symptoms afterwards. There is also a small risk of more serious side effects or complications.

What to Expect After a Surgical Abortion

After a surgical abortion you should expect:

  • Bleeding that is a bit like your period. It could last for 1-2 weeks.
  • Cramping that feels similar to period pain. You should feel better if you take an over the counter painkiller, but avoid using aspirin as it can interfere with the healing process.
  • Feeling sore and tired for a couple of days. You should give yourself at least a couple of days to rest and recover. You’ll then be able to get back to your normal routine as soon as you feel ready.
  • Some women experience nausea or diarrhoea as a side effect of the medication, but this is usually mild.

Surgical abortions can usually be performed with just a local anaesthetic, but in some cases a sedative or general anaesthetic is used. If you have either of these medications then you will probably feel sleepy and disorientated for a while after the procedure too. You might also notice that your memory is unclear.

The side effects will usually last longer if you have a STOP by D&C than if you are able to have manual vacuum aspiration (MVA). However, the D&C procedure can be performed later into the pregnancy, so it isn’t always possible to choose MVA instead.

Risks of Surgical Abortion

All kinds of surgical procedure carry a low risk of complications. Surgical abortions are usually very safe. In fact, it is less risky to have an abortion than it is to continue with the pregnancy and give birth. However, there is still a small chance that you could experience problems after a surgical termination.

The potential complications include:

  • Heavy bleeding during or after the procedure: you might need a blood transfusion or a procedure such as a laparoscopy to locate and stop the bleeding.
  • Infection: symptoms such as severe pain, a fever, or unusual discharge could be signs of an infection. It is usually possible to treat the infection with antibiotics.
  • Damage to the cervix, womb or other organs: the instruments used to remove the womb contents can sometimes perforate or damage your organs. If this happens then you might need an operation to repair them.
  • Negative reactions to the medication (such as the anaesthetic): if the reaction is severe then you might need emergency treatment in the hospital to prevent breathing problems.
  • Retained products of conception: if some material is accidentally left behind in the womb, it may need to be removed with a follow-up procedure.

You could also experience psychological effects after having an abortion, but your reaction will be very personal and the risk isn‘t any higher than for women who continue with their pregnancy. You might feel relieved, sad, guilty, angry or a mix of many different emotions. Although it is rare, having an abortion can trigger more serious mental health issues in some women. If you are having trouble coping then you should consult your GP or specialist.

Getting Help With Abortion Complications

In order to ensure that any issues are tackled quickly, it’s important for you to be aware of the signs that something is wrong. You doctor will make sure that you understand these before you have the procedure. If you notice any of the following then you should consult the clinic or go straight to A&E if your symptoms are severe:

  • Bleeding through multiple pads within an hour or being unable to control it with pads
  • Pain that is so bad you can’t manage it with painkillers
  • Smelly or unusual looking vaginal discharge
  • Fever

As long as you spot these signs and seek help right away, it is usually possible to treat the complications without any serious damage. If you ignore them, then the results could be more serious. For example, an untreated womb infection could develop into Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and might affect your future fertility. Generally, the problem can be treated before this happens.

In very rare cases there could be lasting consequences if you experience serious complications after a surgical abortion. For example, if the bleeding is very severe or there is substantial damage to the womb then you might need to have a hysterectomy. In the worse cases, it is possible to die as a result of complications from a surgical abortion. However, this happens in less than 1 in 100,000 procedures.

Making an Informed Choice About Abortion

Hearing about the potential complications of surgical abortion can be frightening, but it is important to remember that the chances of something going wrong are very small. The most common complication is a mild infection, which happens in about 10% of surgical abortions. Other complications affect less than 1% of women who have surgical terminations, with the most serious complications being the most rare.

Even though the risks are small, you do need to know about them before the procedure, just in case. Your doctor will make sure that you know what the procedure will involve, how you should expect to feel afterwards, and what could go wrong. When you have all of this information, you will be able to make the right choices about your care.

How do you feel about this approach? Do you like to know everything about a procedure before you have it?

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