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What is an Incomplete Abortion?

Lainie Petersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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An incomplete abortion can refer to a miscarriage or an abortion procedure in which the products of conception do not completely leave the uterus. When this happens, there is a risk of hemorrhage and infection. In cases where a miscarriage does not complete on its own, an incomplete abortion must often be treated with the dilation and curettage, or D & C, procedure or medication in order to completely remove the contents of the uterus.

While the term incomplete abortion may sound like it pertains to induced or voluntary abortion obtained by surgical or medical means, it is more often used to describe the complications of spontaneous miscarriage. In early pregnancy, there is a reasonably high risk of miscarriage, particularly in cases where there is a chromosomal defect. In many early miscarriages, there is no need for surgical intervention. Instead, women will experience some cramping and bleeding, and eventually the contents of the uterus will empty. It is a good idea for women to seek medical attention at this time so that they can work with their doctor on a plan of care.

If the uterine contents do not empty entirely, a woman is said to be experiencing an incomplete abortion. An incomplete abortion can be diagnosed through observation and examining the contents of any blood, clots, or tissue passed by a woman during a miscarriage. Ultrasound technology may also be used to see if there is remaining tissue in the uterus. The use of medical abortion drugs, which essentially induce a miscarriage, can be connected to an incomplete abortion, and women undergoing this procedure should speak to their doctor or midwife about the possibility that the abortion will not complete entirely. Women who undertake herbal abortions may likewise have to cope with an incomplete abortion resulting from the inability of the uterus to expel its contents.

There are several options for treatment of an incomplete abortion. The first is to simply wait and see if the uterus eventually empties. In consultation with a health care professional, a woman may simply wait for the process to complete. This can take several weeks, and if a woman begins to experience heavy bleeding, significant pain, or shows signs of infection or anemia, other steps are usually taken to speed up the process. This could include being given the drug misoprostol, which can assist the process so the uterus empties within a few days. Another option is a D&C or a vacuum aspiration of the uterus, which can more quickly remove the tissue and end further discomfort.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen , Former Writer
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.

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Lainie Petersen

Lainie Petersen

Former Writer

Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
Learn more
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