Surgical Abortion Care

Overview

A surgical abortion ends a pregnancy by surgically removing the contents of the uterus. Different procedures are used, depending on how many weeks of pregnancy have passed. Surgical abortions are minor surgeries that require a health professional with specialized training.

After a surgical abortion, you may have cramps and light bleeding for up to 2 weeks. Most women can return to normal activities 1 to 2 days after the procedure.

Caring for yourself after a surgical abortion

Carefully follow all of your doctor's instructions after you have had a surgical abortion.

If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice.

  • Do not rinse the vagina with fluids (douche).

    This could increase your risk of infections that can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.

  • Take any medicines your doctor has prescribed.

    Take them exactly as instructed.

  • Ask your doctor when you can return to strenuous exercise.

    Most women can return to normal activities in 1 to 2 days after the procedure.

  • If you don't want to get pregnant, use birth control when you start having sex again.

Your health professional will give you information about what to expect after an abortion. Normal symptoms that most often occur include:

  • Irregular bleeding or spotting for as long as the first few weeks.
  • Cramping for the first 2 weeks. Cramping (like menstrual cramps) may last for as long as 6 weeks.

Follow your doctor's instructions on what to do at home.

Call your doctor now 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 isn't relieved by pain medicine, rest, or heat
  • Hot flushes or a fever 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 of depression. Hormonal changes after a pregnancy can cause depression that requires treatment.

It's possible to become pregnant in the weeks right after an abortion procedure.

  • Ask your doctor when it's okay to have sexual intercourse.
  • To prevent infection and pregnancy, make sure to use condoms as directed by your doctor when you start to have intercourse again. This is a good time to also start a highly effective birth control method that fits your lifestyle.

Follow-up exam

A follow-up exam is not usually needed after a surgical abortion. But if your doctor does want you to follow up, the exam may include:

  • A physical exam. This is to check the cervix and uterus.
  • A lab test. This is to check for a low human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) level, which means that the pregnancy has ended.
  • A blood test. This is to check for anemia.
  • An ultrasound. This is to confirm that the uterus is empty.
  • Information about birth control, if you don't want to get pregnant.

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