Medical and Psychological Complications of Abortion

Julie Kirk
upset woman with cramps

If you are dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and are contemplating having an abortion, there are many factors to consider when making your decision. It is also essential that you understand the potential medical and psychological complications that you may experience after having an abortion.

Common Abortion Side Effects

In the United States, approximately 40 percent of women with unplanned pregnancies decide to have an abortion. This means that roughly one in four women have had an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. Most women who have an abortion will have no lasting complications, but no medical procedure is completely without risk.

Physical Side Effects

Physical side effects of abortion can vary, but the most common include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Spotting and bleeding
  • Discharge

Doctors sometimes prescribe antibiotics after an abortion to reduce the risk of infection. If you are given antibiotics, it is very important to take the medication exactly as prescribed.

Menstruation Return

After having an abortion, you should begin menstruation within four to six weeks. It is possible to become pregnant soon after, so you'll need to use a reliable birth control method if you wish to avoid another unplanned pregnancy.

Serious Medical Complications of Abortion

After having an abortion, a woman should seek immediate medical attention if she notices the following symptoms:

  • Foul smelling discharge
  • Fever above 100.4 F
  • Prolonged, heavy bleeding
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe back pain
  • Still having pregnancy symptoms (two weeks after the abortion)
  • Fainting

What Are the Medical Complications?

Serious medical complications of an abortion can include:

  • Damage to the cervix
  • Scarring of the uterine lining
  • Perforation of the uterus
  • Damage to the bowel
  • Damage to the bladder
  • Infection
  • Hemorrhaging
  • Death

If the procedure is performed correctly, abortion does not affect a woman's future fertility. It does not increase the risk of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight, or infant death in future pregnancies.

Is There a Link Between Abortion and Breast Cancer?

There have been several attempts to link abortion to an increase in a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. The results of a number of studies are varied and conflicting, yet a definitive relationship between these two factors has never been proven.

Psychological and Emotional Effects of Abortion

The negative psychological and emotional effects of abortion can range from feeling remorse to being diagnosed with depression. In some cases, a woman can develop symptoms that are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder after having an abortion. Some of these signs and symptoms include:

  • Nightmares of the experience
  • Difficulty forming strong emotional attachments
  • Trouble maintaining healthy intimate relationships
  • Hostility and anger
  • Guilt and shame
  • Feeling of loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts

These symptoms may occur immediately after having an abortion or not until several years later. This is more common if the woman feels like she was pressured into having an abortion against her will, although mental health issues related to a past abortion sometimes occur when a woman later gives birth to her first child. With counseling from a qualified mental health professional, these symptoms can be managed.

Abortion Safety

While there are risks involved with any procedure, abortions (medical or surgical) are generally considered safe. The safest and most effective timeframe to have an abortion is in the first trimester. It has also been found that if a woman has had an abortion in the past, it will typically not affect her future chances of pregnancy.

Complications Are Rare

Risks and complications are typically rare. According to one study, approximately 2 percent of women who had an abortion had complications compared to 7 percent of women who had complications when they had their wisdom teeth removed.

Careful Consideration

It is important when you are considering having an abortion procedure (medical or surgical), that you are well-informed and fully understand the potential medical, psychological and emotional complications that may arise. This is a major life decision and any questions or concerns you may have should be thoroughly discussed with your doctor.

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Medical and Psychological Complications of Abortion