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Suction and curettage, also referred to as a mechanical vacuum aspiration, is one of the methods of aborting a pregnancy. It is generally done in the first trimester, or first 12 weeks, of the pregnancy. For more advanced or less advanced pregnancies, methods other than suction and curettage may be used.
The suction and curettage method is sometimes performed in a hospital setting, but it can usually be done in a clinic or doctor’s office unless complications occur. While the actual process only takes ten to 15 minutes, some methods of cervical dilation prior to the abortion can take several hours. Patients undergoing this procedure may also be required to stay afterward for an hour or two to be monitored for problems.
In some cases, an absorbent device is placed into the cervix several hours in advance of the procedure. The device absorbs moisture from the surrounding tissue and swells to slowly dilate the cervix with minimal discomfort and trauma. A second, faster method of cervical dilation is to insert a series of progressively wider tapered rods into the cervix until it is dilated enough to accommodate the suction and curettage equipment.
Sometimes, a local anesthetic is used to numb the cervix. In other cases, the patient is put under general anesthesia, so she is asleep for the procedure. A thin, hollow tube is then inserted through the cervix and into the uterus. This tube is attached to a vacuum pump that suctions out, or aspirates, the contents of the uterus. When this is complete, a sharp, scooping instrument called a curette is used to gently scrape the uterine walls to ensure that all of the tissue has been removed.
While the risks increase with more advanced pregnancies, suction and curettage is relatively safe. Some uterine cramping and bleeding usually accompanies the suction and curettage procedure, and may last for up to two weeks afterward. Additional risks may include heavy bleeding, uterine perforation, or infection. In some cases, cervical injuries occur that may cause the cervix to dilate too soon during future pregnancies, increasing the risk of miscarriage.
Certain psychological effects are also common, including feelings of guilt or depression. The psychological effects of abortion on the mother should not be underestimated or overlooked. If a patient experiences guilt, depression, loss of interest in activities, or other symptoms after terminating a pregnancy, she should seek medical and psychological help immediately.