What is an Incomplete Abortion?

Woman sitting on a white couch holding her knees close to her chest

An incomplete abortion refers to a situation in which the termination of pregnancy is not fully completed, and some pregnancy tissues remain in the uterus. While it can occur spontaneously (some natural miscarriages are incomplete) or as a result of medical interventions (induced abortions), understanding the causes, symptoms, and necessary care for an incomplete abortion is crucial. An incomplete abortion is considered a medical emergency and can have detrimental effects on your health if not addressed immediately. 

Defining Incomplete Abortion 

An incomplete abortion occurs when a portion of the products of conception (the fetus, placenta, or other pregnancy tissues) remains in the uterus after an attempt to terminate the pregnancy. It can occur in both spontaneous (miscarriage) and induced (medical or surgical abortion) scenarios.

There are several factors that can contribute to incomplete abortions:

Spontaneous Incomplete Abortion 

In cases of miscarriage, an incomplete abortion can happen if the uterus fails to expel all the pregnancy tissues. This may occur due to hormonal imbalances, genetic abnormalities, or issues with the uterine lining.

Induced Incomplete Abortion 

When a medical or surgical abortion is performed, there is a possibility that some pregnancy tissues might not be entirely removed. Factors such as improper technique, inadequate follow-up care, or an incomplete response to medication can contribute to an incomplete abortion.

Symptoms of an Incomplete Abortion

The symptoms of an incomplete abortion may vary from person to person. Common signs include:

Persistent or Heavy Bleeding: Experiencing prolonged or heavy bleeding beyond the expected timeframe of a normal abortion or miscarriage.

Cramping and Abdominal Pain: Ongoing or worsening cramping and abdominal pain that may be more intense than the usual discomfort associated with abortion or miscarriage.

Passing Clots or Tissues: Passing clots or tissues from the vagina, which may indicate the presence of remaining pregnancy tissues.

If pregnancy symptoms, such as breast tenderness or nausea, persist after the expected timeframe of resolution, it may suggest an incomplete abortion.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you suspect an incomplete abortion, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly. Consulting a healthcare professional will help determine the appropriate course of action. Here are some steps to consider:

Pregnant woman undergoing an ultrasound at a medical office

Seek Emergency Medical Evaluation: Your healthcare provider may recommend a physical examination, including a pelvic exam, to assess the status of the uterus and evaluate any remaining tissues. They may also order an ultrasound to visualize the uterus and confirm the diagnosis. If you had a medical abortion, make sure you disclose to the doctor where you obtained the pills, and bring whatever packaging the pills came in with you. It is important to be honest about the situation with your doctor so that you can obtain the best medical care. 

Treatment Options: The treatment for an incomplete abortion typically involves removing any remaining pregnancy tissues from the uterus to prevent complications and infection. The specific approach will depend on factors such as the amount of tissue remaining, your overall health, and personal preferences. Treatment options may include medication, aspiration (a procedure to remove the remaining tissue), or surgery.

An incomplete abortion occurs when pregnancy tissues are not entirely expelled from the uterus following a miscarriage or medical/surgical abortion. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of an incomplete abortion is crucial for seeking timely medical attention and appropriate care. Prompt evaluation and treatment are essential to prevent complications and ensure your well-being. If you suspect an incomplete abortion, reach out to your healthcare provider, who can guide you through the necessary steps for assessment and management.

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