Abortion Complications Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jan 25, 2022
  • Author: Slava V Gaufberg, MD; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
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Presentation depends on the type of complication the patient develops. Intraoperative and early postoperative complications are rarely seen in the ED, but some patients develop these types of complications and present to the ED for treatment. Complications include the following:

  • Local anesthesia: Paracervical block is a common method of anesthesia for therapeutic abortion. Accidental intravascular injection of anesthetic is a potentially life-threatening complication of this method that could lead to seizure, cardiopulmonary arrest, and death.

  • General anesthesia: Complications with general anesthesia may lead to uterine atony with severe hemorrhage.

  • Cervical shock: Vasovagal syncope produced by stimulation of the cervical canal during dilatation may occur. Rapid recovery usually follows.

  • Postabortion triad: Pain, bleeding, and low-grade fevers are the most common presenting complaints. Postabortion triad usually is caused by retained products of conception.

  • Hemorrhage: Excessive hemorrhage during or after abortion may signify uterine atony, cervical laceration, uterine perforation, cervical pregnancy, a more advanced gestational age than anticipated, or coagulopathy.

  • Hematometra: Also known as post abortion syndrome, this is the result of retained products of conception or uterine atony for other causes. The endometrium is distended with blood, and the uterus is unable to contract to expel the contents. Patients usually present with increasing lower midline abdominal pain, absent or decreased vaginal bleeding, and, at times, hemodynamic compromise. This may develop immediately after miscarriage or abortion, or it may develop insidiously.

  • Perforation: Patients with uterine perforation missed during the procedure usually present to the ED with increased abdominal pain, bleeding (possibly ranging from very mild to absent), and fever. [16] If perforation results in injury to major blood vessels, patients may present in hemorrhagic shock.

  • Bowel injury: This may accompany uterine perforation. If initially unrecognized, patients present with abdominal pain, fever, blood in the stool, nausea, and vomiting. [17]

  • Bladder injury: This occurs as a result of uterine or cervical perforation. Patients present with suprapubic pain and hematuria.

  • Septic abortion: This is endometritis. Patients present with fever, chills, abdominal pain, vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, and history of recent pregnancy. [18]

  • Failed abortion (continued intrauterine or ectopic pregnancy): Failure to terminate the pregnancy is relatively common with very early abortions (< 6 wk gestational age). Such patients may present to the ED with symptoms of continuing pregnancy such as hyperemesis, increased abdominal girth, and breast engorgement. In addition, an unrecognized ectopic pregnancy in the postabortion period presents in the usual manner.

  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC): Suspect DIC in all patients who present with severe postabortion bleeding, especially after midtrimester abortions. Incidence is approximately 200 cases per 100,000 abortions; this rate is even higher for saline instillation techniques (660 per 100,000 abortions).


Physical Examination

Vital signs

Monitoring of vital signs is essential for patients with postabortion complications. Increasing fever could be a sign of progressing infection. Tachycardia and hypotension may be signs of severe hemorrhage or septic shock.

Abdominal examination

Suprapubic tenderness is common in the postabortion period. Severe tenderness is unusual and may be a sign of hematometra, bladder perforation, or bowel injury.

Tenderness in other areas of the abdomen (eg, rebound tenderness, guarding) strongly indicates instrumental injury complications (eg, perforation, bowel injury, bladder injury).

A tender mass in the suprapubic area suggests hematometra.

Diminished or absent bowel sounds are a sign of developing peritonitis.

Vaginal examination

Assess the quantity and rate of hemorrhage. Look for possible vaginal or cervical injury. Identify the source of bleeding (eg, uterine; cervical os; lesions of the vulva, vagina, or vaginal portion of cervix).

Cervical motion tenderness on bimanual examination may be suggestive of pelvic infection or ectopic pregnancy.

A large tender uterus may be a sign of hematometra.

Adnexal tenderness or masses may suggest ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), cyst, or hematoma.

Rectal examination

A rectal examination must be performed if bowel injury is suspected.

The presence of rectal tenderness and blood (or guaiac-positive stool) makes the diagnosis of bowel injury almost certain.