Risks and Side Effects of an Abortion

Risks and Side Effects of an Abortion

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Possible Complications, Side Effects and Pain

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  • From a medical standpoint, an 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 an abortion differ from one woman to another, depending 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 by using the drug Mifegyne® in combination with a prostaglandin (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, which is 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 effect one’s circulatory system.

Possible Repercussions

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

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

Risks of an Abortion by Vacuum Aspiration

Vacuum Aspiration is the most common abortion method 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, in order 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: This 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 the delicate uterine wall is perforated by the medical instruments. 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 be increased, if the mucosa, uterus, or cervix had 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. They are usually made necessary when vacuum aspiration had failed to remove all tissue remnants.

Additionally to the risks accompanying vacuum extractions, 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, the uterine wall was thinned to such an extent that no subsequent pregnancies are possible. The woman is rendered infertile.

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.

  • Most late term abortions are done by induction. The woman has to undergo the physical strain of a complete birth, including contractions and the risk of birthing complications.
  • During the postpartum period, several weeks of bed rest may be necessary for the body to readjust hormonally to a non-pregnant state. Breast milk may come in, requiring lactation suppressing medication.

For more information, go to: Late-term Abortion

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