Abortions are a medical way to end a pregnancy. While abortions may cause some pain or cramping, many women can manage the discomfort.

In this article, we discuss whether abortions hurt, other side effects, and potential risks and complications. We also explore the potential emotional impact of having an abortion, minimizing pain and side effects, and getting advice about an abortion.

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A woman’s experience of an abortion can vary depending on the type she has.

The experience of an abortion varies between individuals. Abortions may cause some pain or cramping, but many women can manage this discomfort.

The level of pain and other side effects that a woman may experience largely depend on the type of abortion she has. The three most common types of abortion are:

  • medical abortions
  • vacuum aspiration
  • dilation and evacuation

We discuss what a woman can expect during each of these procedures below:

Medical abortion

A medical abortion is when a woman takes two prescribed abortion pills to end her pregnancy. According to Planned Pregnancy, a doctor will typically recommend this type of abortion up to 10 weeks after a woman’s last period.

The first pill, mifepristone, stops the pregnancy from developing. The second pill, misoprostol, causes the uterus to contract and pass out the pregnancy tissue. Some women may experience moderate pain as a result of these uterine contractions.

Every woman who has a medical abortion will respond differently. Some women describe the experience as being similar to having a heavy period and cramps. Others may experience more intense cramping.

When someone has a medical abortion, they usually pass out the pregnancy tissue within 4–5 hours. Individuals may experience some bleeding or spotting for several weeks after taking the pills.

Vacuum aspiration

Vacuum aspiration is a type of surgical abortion that involves the use of gentle suction to remove the pregnancy tissue.

The doctor will give a woman an injection or medication to numb the cervix before performing the aspiration. Sometimes they prescribe a general anesthetic, but this is rare.

Because the procedure involves the use of pain relief medications, vacuum aspiration does not usually hurt. However, a woman may experience a dragging or pulling sensation during the process.

Some women may experience moderate cramping for 1 or 2 days after having vacuum aspiration, while other women may experience bleeding or spotting for up to 2 weeks afterward.

Dilation and evacuation

Dilation and evacuation is another type of surgical abortion that doctors typically recommend if the woman has been pregnant for more than 13 weeks, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Dilation and evacuation involves the use of a general anesthetic, which puts the woman to sleep. This means she will not be conscious during the procedure and will be unable to feel pain.

The doctor begins by using dilators, which are thin rods, to open the woman’s cervix. Then they use forceps and suction to remove the pregnancy tissue.

After having a dilation and evacuation procedure, ACOG state that a woman may experience some cramping for 1 or 2 days. She may also have spotting or bleeding for up to 2 weeks.

Some women may experience side effects after having an abortion. We discuss the possible side effects for each type of abortion below:

Medical abortion

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When a woman has a medical abortion, she may experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

The potential side effects of a medical abortion include:

Surgical abortion

Surgical abortions include both vacuum aspiration and dilation and evacuation. The potential side effects of these procedures can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • cramping
  • bleeding
  • blood clots