Medical complications after an abortion are rare in the United States, but they do happen. Your abortion provider is usually the best source of information or care if problems arise. If you require medical attention and cannot return to your abortion provider for care, ask for the best place to go in your area.
You may not have a choice in emergency situations, but try to stay away from Catholic-owned hospitals and health services, as they oppose abortion and may not give you the most compassionate and appropriate care. If possible, bring a support person with you.
When you receive care at another location, be sure to let the abortion provider know. This helps the clinics track their abortion complications and improve the quality of their services.
Below is a list of symptoms that may indicate a problem. If you have any of these symptoms or other concerns, get help immediately.
In rare cases, some women bleed more than is safe during or after an abortion. The best way to tell if you are bleeding too much is to keep track of the number of pads you are using and the number and size of any clots. Call your provider if you soak two maxi pads an hour for two hours in a row, if you pass large clots, or if you begin to feel light-headed.
Uterine cramping is normal after any kind of abortion; the main way that your uterus controls bleeding is to contract, squeezing the blood vessels shut. Heavy bleeding can occur if your uterus relaxes too much (uterine atony) or if some fetal or placental tissue is retained in the uterus (incomplete abortion). Very rarely, excessive bleeding can be due to a uterine injury that occurred during the abortion.
Persistent or severe pelvic pain may indicate a problem. Contact your provider if intense pain persists after you’ve used a heating pad and taken pain relievers.
The most common cause of severe pain is an infection. Most infections are mild and can be treated at home with antibiotics prescribed by your provider. Post-procedure pain may also be caused by retained fetal or placental tissue, or clots (hematometra). If the tissue or clots don’t pass on their own, you may need medication or a vacuum aspiration to empty the uterus.
In rare instances, pain may also indicate ectopic pregnancy, when an embryo is implanted outside of the uterus, most commonly in a fallopian tube. A growing pregnancy can stretch and burst the tube, causing severe pain and bleeding in your abdomen. An ectopic pregnancy requires immediate medical condition; it is usually treated with methotrexate or surgery.
In very rare cases, severe pain without an accompanying fever can be the sign of a lethal infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium sordellii.
If you have a sustained fever of 100.4° Fahrenheit or above, you may have an infection. Misoprostol can cause a short-term fever. However, if your temperature remains elevated for several hours, or if you have severe pain, call your provider.
Continued Symptoms of Pregnancy
Symptoms of pregnancy, such as nausea, bloating or breast tenderness, typically resolve within a week or two following an abortion. If these symptoms persist, you may still be pregnant and should visit your provider.
Taking a home pregnancy test is not useful, because you can continue to test positive for four to six weeks after a complete abortion, due to pregnancy hormones that are still in your body.
Also, if you began using a hormonal birth control method (the Pill, patch, or vaginal ring) right after the abortion, know that these can cause pregnancy-like symptoms, particularly during the first few months of use.