Therapeutic abortion is the ending of a pregnancy on purpose. A medical abortion is done by taking medicine. This procedure is done in early pregnancy. It can be done up to 8 weeks.
This process is not the same as emergency contraception. An abortion ends a pregnancy that has started. Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy.
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Reasons for Procedure
A therapeutic abortion may be done to:
- Preserve the mother’s physical and mental health
- End a pregnancy that tests have shown would result in a child with severe abnormalities
Complications are rare. But, no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have an abortion, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
- Allergic reaction
- Heavy bleeding
- Incomplete procedure
A medical abortion is unsuccessful about 5%-10% of the time. If the abortion was not complete, you may need more medicine. A surgery may also be needed to end the pregnancy.
It is best to do the procedure as early as possible. This will decreases the chance of complications. If you think you might be pregnant, see your doctor. The earlier you find out, the more time you have to make an informed choice about the pregnancy.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may:
- Examine you to determine the stage of your pregnancy
- Do blood and urine tests to confirm the pregnancy
- Use ultrasound to give an accurate assessment of the stage of pregnancy
No anesthesia will be used.
Description of Procedure
You will be given medicine in the doctor's office. This medicine will stop the pregnancy. It may be a pill, given by shot, or inserted into the vagina. Many will also need to take other medicine 1 to 3 days later.
An exam will be done about a week later to make sure the procedure is done.
How Long Will It Take?
The process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The amount of time depends on the type of medicine used.
Will It Hurt?
- Feel lightheaded
- Have strong cramps
- Feel nauseous
- Have temporary abdominal pain
- Have temporary mild fever or chills
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce most of these symptoms. Do not take aspirin unless directed to by your doctor.
- You may have cramps and bleeding.
- You may also have nausea and diarrhea.
- You should not douche or use vaginal medications until your doctor allows it.
- You can shower or bathe.
- Do not have sex for at least 1 week.
- You should recover within a couple of days.
- Make sure you return to see your doctor for follow-up.
Sudden hormone changes may increase natural feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, and regret. Most doctors can offer or refer you to follow-up counseling.
Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing or you develop complications such as:
- Increasing abdominal pain
- Heavy vaginal bleeding (greater than 1 pad per hour)
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists http://www.acog.org
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. http://www.plannedparenthood.org
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada http://www.sogc.org
Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca
Induced abortion. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115505/Induced-abortion . Updated October 4, 2018. Accessed December 28, 2018.
Medical abortion procedures. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/unplanned-pregnancy/medical-abortions/. Updated April 26, 2017. Accessed December 28, 2018.
What is medical abortion? National Abortion Federation website. Available at: http://www.prochoice.org/about%5Fabortion/facts/medical%5Fabortion.html. Accessed December 28, 2016.
1/11/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115505/Induced-abortion : Robson SC, Kelly T, Deverill M, et al. Randomised preference trial of medical versus surgical termination of pregnancy less than 14 weeks' gestation (TOPS). Health Technol Assess. 2009;13(53):1-124.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 12/2018
- Update Date: 12/31/2018