Risks and Side Effects of Abortion

Risks and Side Effects of an Abortion

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Possible Complications and Side Effects Having an Abortion

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  • From a medical standpoint, abortion is generally not considered a major operation. Nevertheless, it disrupts biological processes within a woman’s body.
  • There are various risk factors and possible long-term side effects, depending on the abortion method.

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Abortion From a Medical Point of View

Abortion is considered a comparatively minor procedure from a medical standpoint (e.g., compared to major abdominal surgery).

Nevertheless, the termination of a pregnancy is an abrupt interruption of biological processes within the woman’s body. Physical side effects of abortion differ from woman to woman, depending in part on her general health and fitness.

The severity and types of side effects also depend upon the abortion method, namely whether the abortion was performed using medication, vacuum aspiration, D&C, dilation and extraction (D&E), or late-term induction.

Risks and Side Effects of a Medical Abortion (Abortion Pill)

A medical abortion (aka, chemical abortion) is performed using the drug Mifegyne® in combination with a prostaglandin (a labor-inducing drug). For more information on the procedure, go to Abortion via Abortion Pill, Mifegyne®.

Initially, an abortion using medication may seem gentler and less stressful to the woman’s body rather than undergoing surgery. However, medical abortions via the "abortion pill" can be physically challenging and carry certain risks:

Risks and Side Effects

  • Medical abortions trigger bleeding, often heavier than a regular menstrual period.
  • Cramping is a common accompanying symptom, which many women experience as more painful than "normal" period pain.
  • Abortions via medication take longer than the surgical procedure. Vaginal bleeding may continue for up to 12 days.
  • Headaches, nausea and dizziness are also common, since prostaglandins often adversely affect one’s circulatory system.

Possible Repercussions

  • Medical abortions cause a hormonal imbalance. So while the body tries to regulate its hormone levels, irregular periods are expected.
  • Tissue remnants may remain in the uterus after a medical abortion. This may necessitate a D&C, which is usually performed under sedation.

ℹ️ Medical abortions should be performed under medical doctor's supervision in order to avoid serious complications.

Risks of an Abortion by Vacuum Aspiration

Vacuum Aspiration accounts for almost 50% of first-trimester abortions, worldwide. For more information, go to Abortion via Vacuum Aspiration.

Vacuum aspirations have a lower complication rate than D&Cs. Nevertheless, there are also adverse effects and possible risks involved in having a vacuum aspiration abortion:

Risks and Side Effects

  • Pain: The uterus reacts to the suctioning by initiating contractions, similar to labor pain, to contract back to its original size. This may lead to intense cramping, which can be compared to the pain at the onset of a heavy menstrual period.
  • Postpartum bleeding can last up to two weeks and is usually lighter than a regular menstrual period. Heavy bleeding is unusual, but possible. Some women do not start bleeding until three to five days after the procedure, followed by several days of spotting.
  • Increased risk of infection during post-abortion bleeding: The risk of a uterine infection accompanies any abortion. It is advisable to avoid tampons, sexual intercourse, taking baths, swimming, as well as sauna visits. Inflammation of the abdominal wall or fallopian tubes may also result from the abortion procedure.
  • Very rarely, hemorrhaging occurs when medical instruments accidentally perforate the delicate uterine wall. Such injuries require emergency care, and can necessitate the complete removal of the uterus (hysterectomy).

Possible Long Term Effects

The risk of premature birth in subsequent pregnancies may increase, if the mucosa, uterus, or cervix has been weakened by an injury incurred by the abortion implements (cervical insufficiency).

Risks and Side Effects of a D&C

D&Cs are less common because of the higher rate of complications. However, they are usually necessary when vacuum aspiration has failed to remove all tissue remnants. For more informations on D&Ss, go to D&C Abortion (Dilation and Curettage).

Additionally to the risks accompanying vacuum extractions, the following risks must be considered before having a D&C:

  • An injury to the uterine wall can cause scar tissue to develop (Asherman syndrome), increasing the risk of future miscarriages.

In rare cases, abortion may result in infertility. This can happen if the uterine wall was thinned to such an extent that the implantation of a fertilized egg is no longer possible.

Barring all complications and long-term side effects, abortions usually leave no physical trace.

ℹ️ Surgical abortion methods (vacuum aspiration, D&C, and D&E) are commonly performed under general or local anesthesia. Any choice of anesthesia is accompanied by risks and side effects. For more information, go to Abortion - Which Type of Anesthesia?

Risks and Side Effects of Late-Term Abortions

Apart from the increased emotional strain, late-term abortions also come with physical side effects. Late-term abortions are most commonly performed by D&E or induction.

Risks and Side Effects of a D&E

D&E is the most common late-abortion method in the United States and many other countries, as it does not require an overnight hospital stay. For more information on D&E abortions, go to D&E Abortion (Dilation and Evacuation).

The further along you are in the pregnancy, the greater the risk of complications. 5% of women encounter the following complications after a D&E:

  • Cervical laceration (3%)

  • Retaining fetal tissue (1%)

  • Infection

  • Uterine perforation
  • Extramural delivery (Delivery of fetus due to dilation before the surgery)

  • Hemorrhage

Risks and Side Effects of an Induction Abortion

Induction abortions involve taking medication to induce labor. The process may take 24 to 72 hours, requiring a hospital stay. For more information on abortions by induction, go to Induction Abortion.

Induction abortion means undergoing the physical strain of a complete birth, including contractions and the risk of birthing complications.

Six percent of induction abortions require surgery after the delivery because of a retained placenta.

  • During the postpartum period, several weeks of bed rest may be necessary for the body to readjust hormonally to a non-pregnant state. In addition, breast milk may come in, requiring lactation-suppressing medication.

For more information, go to Late-term Abortion

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