The abortion pill has become the most common abortion method largely for its convenience and because it is perceived to be more natural than the surgical alternative.
However, just because something is more convenient doesn’t mean it is safer.
Likewise, just because you can take the pill at home doesn’t make it a natural process for your body to go through.
It is important to understand potential side effects and risk factors associated with the abortion pill so you can be prepared to get the help you need when you need it.
One of the most serious side effects of the abortion pill is the possibility of an incomplete abortion.
What exactly is an incomplete abortion?
An incomplete abortion is the partial loss of the products of conception.1 Experiencing this condition does not mean you are still pregnant. It means that some of the pregnancy tissue remains inside your uterus. This is a serious condition requiring immediate medical intervention.
What are the symptoms of incomplete abortion?
- Heavy vaginal bleeding (soaking more than two pads an hour for two hours)
- Lower abdominal pain that can radiate through the lower back and pelvic region
- Passing blood clots and/or pieces of tissue 1,6
When should I seek medical attention?
If you have any of the above symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
How is incomplete abortion treated?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the most common treatment for this condition is a repeat dose of misoprostol. Depending on doctor recommendations and patient request, other methods such as uterine aspiration or expectant management may be considered instead. 2
Let’s break these down in more detail.
- Repeat dose of misoprostol
- According to Guttmacher Institute, treatment of incomplete abortion using a repeated dose of misoprostol is 99% effective at emptying the uterus if the pregnancy is 12 or fewer weeks. 3
- Uterine aspiration
- Uterine aspiration (also called suction or vacuum aspiration) is a medical procedure in which the cervix is dilated (opened) and a suction device is used to empty the uterus. 4
- Expectant management
- This involves waiting and allowing the uterus to empty its contents spontaneously. This method is not typically recommended due to low efficacy (lower success rates) and the timeline for such events to occur is unpredictable. 5
How common is this condition?
According to research reported by Charlotte Lozier Institute, surgery for incomplete abortion is required 3.4-7.9% of the time following an attempted chemical (medical) abortion. It is important that you monitor your symptoms and watch for signs of incomplete abortion.
If you’ve taken the abortion pill regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol and are experiencing troublesome symptoms, go to your nearest emergency room as soon as possible. Incomplete abortion, though rare, is a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention.
At Parkville Women’s Clinic we offer post-abortion assessment. If you have had an abortion recently and want to ensure your body is healing appropriately, want to talk through any concerns, or need help processing your grief, schedule an appointment to come see us. Our trained staff will offer you information, resources, and support. You are not alone.
2 Medication Abortion Up to 70 Days of Gestation | ACOG
5 clinguide_pacguide_en.pdf (gynuity.org)