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Surgical Abortion Care - Topic Overview

Care before a surgical abortion

Before a surgical abortion, your doctor will:

  • Evaluate your past health, including any medicines you are taking.
  • Do a physical exam, including a pelvic examination, to evaluate your health, how long you have been pregnant, and the location and health of the embryo or fetus.
  • Perform an ultrasound to confirm how far along and where the pregnancy is. Not all doctors choose to do this step.
  • Discuss your decision to have an abortion and your feelings about the decision.
  • Discuss your plans for future pregnancies and birth control use.
  • Explain the procedure, possible problems, and when to call your doctor.

Care immediately after a surgical abortion

After a surgical abortion procedure, your doctor will check to make sure:

Medicines that may be given after a surgical abortion include:

  • Antibiotics, to prevent infection.
  • Medicines that cause uterine contractions (uterotonic), to empty the uterus completely and reduce bleeding.
  • Rh immunoglobulin, which is given to all women who have Rh-negative blood type to prevent Rh sensitization after the procedure.
  • Pain medicine, for cramping pain caused by uterine contractions.
  • Medicine to treat nausea or vomiting.

Care at home after a surgical abortion

Carefully follow all of your doctor's instructions and review what-to-expect information after a surgical abortion. Follow these instructions:

  • Most women can return to normal activities in 1 to 2 days after the procedure. Avoid strenuous exercise for about 1 week.
  • Do not have sexual intercourse for at least 1 week, or longer, as advised by your doctor.
  • When you start having intercourse again, use birth control, and use condoms to prevent infection. For more information, see the topic Birth Control.
  • Do not rinse the vagina with fluids (douche). This could increase your risk of infections that can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.

Normal symptoms that most women will experience after a surgical abortion include:

  • Irregular bleeding or spotting for the first 2 weeks.
  • Cramping for the first 2 weeks. Some women may have cramping (like menstrual cramps) for as long as 6 weeks.
  • Emotional reactions for 2 to 3 weeks.

Signs of complications

Call your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms after an abortion:

  • Severe bleeding. Both medical and surgical abortions usually cause bleeding that is different from a normal menstrual period. Severe bleeding can mean:
    • Passing clots that are bigger than a golf ball, lasting 2 or more hours.
    • Soaking more than 2 large pads in an hour, for 2 hours in a row.
    • Bleeding heavily for 12 hours in a row.
  • Signs of infection in your whole body, such as headache, muscle aches, dizziness, or a general feeling of illness. Severe infection is possible without fever.
  • Severe pain in the belly that is not relieved by pain medicine, rest, or heat
  • Hot flushes or a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher that lasts longer than 4 hours
  • Vomiting lasting more than 4 to 6 hours
  • Sudden belly swelling or rapid heart rate
  • Vaginal discharge that has increased in amount or smells bad
  • Pain, swelling, or redness in the genital area

Call your doctor for an appointment if you have had any of these symptoms after a recent abortion:

  • Bleeding (not spotting) for longer than 2 weeks
  • New, unexplained symptoms that may be caused by medicines used in your treatment
  • No menstrual period within 6 weeks after the procedure
  • Signs and symptoms of depression. Hormonal changes after a pregnancy can cause depression that requires treatment.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 31, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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