What you should know about medical abortion and infection

Wednesday, March 27, 2019 blog Share

Being aware of risk, even when it's rare, is a vital part of taking care of yourself.

Washing hands

Thanks to abortion stigma (negative and false beliefs about abortion), the idea that the abortion pill is dangerous persists, often to the detriment of those seeking abortion care. The reality, brought to you by actual science, is that there is no evidence that either safe medical or surgical abortion damages one's health or future fertility.

There is an "if" here, and that "if" applies to infection. Untreated infections may lead to circumstances that can negatively impact the body in the long term. Why are we telling you this if abortion pills are safe? Because all medical procedures come with risk, and because being aware of risk, even when it's rare, is a vital part of taking care of yourself.

Let's break it down. The odds of getting an infection from a medical abortion are low, low, low — they occur in 2-5 women out of every 100. You don't need to take antibiotics with the abortion pill because the likelihood of getting an infection is so small, which is one reason why abortion pills are safe to take at home. You also don't need to do anything to clean out your uterus post medical abortion, but you should be certain that your abortion was successful.

To help prevent infection, avoid putting anything into your vulva until the heavy bleeding associated with medical abortion (the way the pregnancy materials leave your body) diminishes. You should also watch out for symptoms of infection following your self-managed abortion. These symptoms include severe bleeding (more than 2 or 3 pads used every hour for more than 2 or 3 consecutive hours), severe abdominal pain that isn’t relieved with painkillers or continues for 2-3 days after taking the pills, a fever over 39º (102.2) at any time or 38º (100.4) for more than 24 hours, and vaginal discharge that's abnormal for you.

Infections can usually be treated effectively by medical professionals. When you're putting together a plan for your self-managed abortion, which should include a safe place to experience bleeding and cramping and time to take it easy afterwards, as well as ibuprofen (not aspirin, as it can increase bleeding), antiemetics (in case you get nauseous), and someone you can call for support and/or transportation, make sure that you're also able to get to a medical facility within one or two hours.   While many may face barriers to access to medical care after abortion —  because they can't afford it,  it's geographically difficult, they can't get child care, they're in a dangerous relationship that restricts their ability to travel, etc. (reasons people choose the abortion pill in the first place), complications such as hemorrhage and infection must be treated as potentially very serious, and for this reason it is recommended to plan ahead of time to make sure you can get the care you need in the unlikely event that you suspect you might have a complication.

Remember that if you do seek medical care post medical abortion, you don't have to tell a clinician that you took abortion pills; you can say you're having a miscarriage. Misoprostol, one element of the abortion pill (which can also be taken on its own to terminate pregnancies up until 12 weeks), cannot be detected in the blood or any bodily fluids within a few hours after use. A health care professional will not know if you took abortion pills, and if they tell you otherwise, it's a scare tactic.

A crucial element of having a safe and effective abortion with pills is having the actual medication that you need. There are a lot of places online that claim to offer abortion pills, be that misoprostol on its own (also called cytotec), or the misoprostol/mifepristone combination, but in fact do not have the real medicine. Women Help Women believes you deserve access to not only abortion pills, but also contraception AND accurate scientific information about how it all works and what you can expect.