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Risks - Abortion

Abortions are generally very safe and most women won't experience any problems.

But like any medical treatment, there is a small risk that something could go wrong. The risk of complications increases the later in pregnancy an abortion is carried out.

Possible complications

The main risks associated with an abortion are:

  • infection of the womb – occurs in up to 1 in every 10 abortions; it can usually be treated with antibiotics
  • some of the pregnancy remaining in the womb – occurs in up to 1 in every 20 abortions; further treatment may be required if this happens
  • continuation of the pregnancy – occurs in less than 1 in every 100 abortions; further treatment will be needed if this happens
  • excessive bleeding – occurs in about 1 in every 1,000 abortions; severe cases may require a blood transfusion
  • damage of the entrance to the womb (cervix) – occurs in up to 1 in every 100 surgical abortions
  • damage to the womb – occurs in 1 in every 250 to 1,000 surgical abortions and less than 1 in 1,000 medical abortions carried out at 12 to 24 weeks

Women who have an abortion are no more likely to experience mental health problems than those who continue with their pregnancy.

There is also no link between having an abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer.

When to get medical advice

After having an abortion, you'll probably experience some period-type pains and vaginal bleeding.

This should start to gradually improve after a few days, but can last for one to two weeks. It's normal and is usually nothing to worry about.

But you should get advice if you experience any signs of a possible problem, such as:

  • excessive bleeding – for example, if you pass large clots or go through two or more sanitary pads an hour for more than two hours in a row
  • severe pain that can't be controlled with painkillers such as ibuprofen
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • smelly vaginal discharge
  • continuing pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea and sore breasts

The clinic will provide you with the number of a 24-hour helpline to call if you experience any problems after an abortion.

Effect on fertility and future pregnancies

Having an abortion won't affect your chances of becoming pregnant and having normal pregnancies in the future.

Many women are able to get pregnant immediately afterwards, so you should start using contraception right away if you don't want this to happen. You should be advised about this at the time you have the abortion.

However, there's a very small risk to your fertility and future pregnancies if you develop a womb infection that isn't treated promptly. The infection could spread to your fallopian tubes and ovaries – known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

PID can increase the risk of infertility or ectopic pregnancy, where an egg implants itself outside of the womb.

But most infections are treated before they reach this stage and you'll often be given antibiotics before an abortion to reduce the risk of infection.

Having several abortions is associated with a slightly increased risk of giving birth prematurely, before the 37th week of pregnancy, in future pregnancies.

Talk to your doctor or an abortion advice service for more information if you're concerned about the possible risks of an abortion.

Page last reviewed: 17 August 2016
Next review due: 17 August 2019