Side Effects and Potential Risks of an At-Home Abortion
What to expect
The information on this website is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek emergency care if you experience any of the following:
- Heavy bleeding — soaking two or more pads an hour for two hours.
- Severe abdominal or back pain.
- Fever lasting more than 24 hours.
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge.1
Reactions to medication abortion pills vary widely, from just painful to very dangerous. You need to be aware that these pills even have a “black box” warning, which is the highest level of caution the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) puts on medication.2,3 The FDA also warns against taking them without medical supervision. Before taking these pills (especially without a doctor’s help), you should be aware of possible side effects you may encounter.
Common Side Effects
Abortion pills require that you follow directions carefully to minimize the risk of an emergency medical situation. Even when used properly, medication abortion has some common unpleasant side effects you can expect.4 These will include at least some of the following:
Some online providers of abortion pills will encourage you to be dishonest with your doctor about what pills you took and why. If you have taken these pills it is important to seek follow-up medical care and to be completely honest with your provider. Save any packaging or order information in case they have questions or concerns. Your doctor can only help you if they have all of the information.
Many people need pain medication for this procedure. The average medical abortion patient complained of pain higher than 6 on a scale of 1 to 11, with 2 out of 10 women saying their pain was a 10.5 Bleeding from the medication abortion may last up to two weeks, with spotting likely for a month. It is important to realize this is not just like “getting your period.” Rather, this procedure can be physically—and emotionally—traumatic.
Risk of Infection
Licensed medical providers often prescribe antibiotics along with the abortion pills, but you will not have access to a prescription for antibiotics if you are getting abortion pills through the mail. This may put you at higher risk of infection. An infection might begin with symptoms like high fever and pain, but it can progress to a life-threatening condition called sepsis, which has been linked to major illness—and even death—after a medication abortion.6 Infection complications can also lead to future fertility problems.7
Other Possible Complications
A medication abortion can be harmful if you are further along in your pregnancy than you think you are.8 It can cause symptoms similar to those already mentioned, but it could even result in a life-threatening complication such as your uterus rupturing.9 Abortion pills may also be ineffective, and you may unknowingly remain pregnant, or you could be left with retained products of conception (pieces of placenta or fetal body parts) inside your body that can result in infection and other problems.10 Conditions such as an ectopic pregnancy, in which your pregnancy is progressing in the wrong part of your body, would also make at-home abortion attempts especially dangerous.11 You will not know you have these conditions without a doctor’s help, which you don’t have in a self-managed abortion.
As with any medication, you may also experience an undiagnosed allergy.12 If you are allergic to either the active ingredient in the abortion pills or an inactive ingredient, you may have a dangerous reaction such as hives, rash, fever, or anaphylaxis (inability to breathe properly). If you are not under a doctor’s care, an allergy can more easily turn deadly.
A special note about “home remedies” Many people wrongly believe that because a product is “natural,” it is safe.13 This is unfortunately not true, and licensed medical providers have seen that harm can arise from their use.14 To further complicate matters, licensed medical providers may not know how to treat problems resulting from herbal supplements; or, if the box label is wrong, they may treat the wrong problem. Likewise, practices such as going for a bumpy car ride, soaking in a hot tub, or other old-wives’ tales are just that: tales. They are ineffective and often dangerous to you.
Do you want to know what your options are and hear honest information about abortion? Go to optionline.org and find a pregnancy center near you.
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Sarah M. Bowen.
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