What is surgical abortion?

Surgical Abortion
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In-clinic abortion: Overview

An in-clinic abortion is a minor medical procedure to end a pregnancy. The most common type is vacuum aspiration. The doctor gently widens the opening of your cervix and puts a tube in your uterus. The tube uses gentle suction to empty the uterus. This procedure takes just a few minutes. But you may be in the clinic for a few hours.

Before the procedure, you may get medicine to reduce pain and help you relax. After, you may have cramps and light bleeding. But they usually don't last more than a few days. Most people can go back to their normal activities in 1 to 2 days.

You can get pregnant in the weeks after an abortion. If you don't want to get pregnant, talk to your doctor about birth control options.

How can you care for yourself after an in-clinic abortion?

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough rest will help you recover.
  • Ask your doctor when you can return to normal activities and strenuous exercise. Most people can return to normal activities 1 to 2 days after the procedure.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take medicines exactly as directed.
  • Use sanitary pads until you stop bleeding. Using pads makes it easier to monitor your bleeding.
  • Do not rinse inside your vagina with fluid (douche). This could increase your risk of infections that can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Ask your doctor when it's okay to have vaginal sex. You can get pregnant in the weeks after an abortion. If you don't want to get pregnant, talk to your doctor about birth control options.

How do you prepare for an in-clinic abortion?

Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your procedure. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your procedure. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the procedure and how soon to do it.

What care will you need after an in-clinic abortion?

Unless you are having problems, you probably won't need a follow-up exam after an in-clinic abortion.

What is an in-clinic abortion?

An in-clinic abortion is a minor medical procedure to end a pregnancy. The most common type is vacuum aspiration. The doctor puts a tube in the uterus. The tube uses gentle suction to remove the contents of the uterus. This is done in a clinic by a doctor who has special training.

Surgical abortion: What happens immediately after the procedure?

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

  • Your vital signs are normal. This includes your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.
  • You aren't bleeding too much.
  • Your pain is under control.
  • Side effects from the anesthetic (local or general) aren't causing problems.

After an abortion: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe vaginal bleeding along with lightheadedness or nausea.
  • You have chest pain, are short of breath, or cough up blood.
  • You feel you cannot stop from hurting yourself or someone else.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.
  • You have bright red vaginal bleeding that soaks through a pad in an hour, or you have large clots.
  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot drink fluids.
  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in the calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Swelling in the leg or groin.
    • A color change on the leg or groin. The skin may be reddish or purplish, depending on your usual skin color.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain.
    • A fever.
  • You have vaginal discharge that has increased in amount or smells bad.
  • You still feel pregnant or have pregnancy symptoms.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

What can you expect as you recover from an in-clinic abortion?

You may have cramps and light bleeding for up to 2 weeks after an in-clinic abortion. Most people can return to normal activities 1 to 2 days after the procedure.

What happens on the day of an in-clinic abortion?

  • Follow any instructions you were given to prepare for the procedure. You may be able to eat and drink as normal. If you are told to limit food and drink, follow the instructions exactly.
  • You may want to wear comfortable clothes that are easy to remove.

At the clinic or doctor's office

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • You may be given medicine for pain and anxiety.
  • You may be given an Rh immune globulin shot if you have Rh-negative blood.
  • The procedure will only take a few minutes. But you may be in the office or clinic for a few hours.

Why is an in-clinic abortion done?

You might choose an in-clinic abortion because compared to a pill abortion:

  • It takes less time to complete.
  • There is less risk that the abortion won't work.
  • It is less likely to cause heavy bleeding at home.
  • It is less likely to require more visits in the clinic.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.