Risks of an abortion
No clinical procedure is entirely risk-free, but abortion poses few risks to a woman’s physical health, particularly when carried out during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Having an abortion will not usually affect your chances of becoming pregnant and having normal pregnancies in future.
Risks at the time of an abortion
There is a low risk of problems occurring during an abortion. However, there are more likely to be problems if an abortion is carried out later in a pregnancy.
The risks associated with abortions are:
- haemorrhage (excessive bleeding) – occurs in about one in every 1,000 abortions
- damage to the cervix (the entrance of the womb) – occurs in no more than 10 in every 1,000 abortions
- damage to the womb – occurs in up to four in every 1,000 abortions during surgical abortion, and less than one in 1,000 medical abortions carried out at 12-24 weeks
Risks after an abortion
After an abortion, the main risk is infection in the womb, which is usually caused by failing to completely remove all of the foetus and associated tissue.
You can reduce the risks of infection by using sanitary pads until the bleeding stops. It is best to avoid using tampons until your next period. You should also avoid having sex until the bleeding has stopped.
If you have an infection after an abortion, you may bleed heavily from your vagina and have some period-like pain. Antibiotics are usually used to treat the infection.
If an infection is not treated, it could lead to a more severe infection of your reproductive organs, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility or ectopic pregnancy (where a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes). However, the risk of an infection can be reduced by taking antibiotics at the time of the abortion.
Repeated abortions can cause damage to your cervix and increase the risk of late miscarriages.
After having an abortion, you may experience some period-type pains and some vaginal bleeding, which should gradually improve after a few days. Most women are able to return to their usual activities within a day or so. However, you should seek medical attention if:
- you have severe pain
- the bleeding becomes very heavy
- the bleeding has not stopped after 14 days
You will usually be advised not to have sex for up to two weeks, or until the bleeding has stopped. Seek advice from your GP, a family planning clinic or a pregnancy advisory service if you experience physical or emotional problems after having an abortion.