D&C Procedure and its Risks and Complications

In the event of a miscarriage or otherwise abnormal pregnancy, you may elect or need to undergo a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure as opposed to a natural miscarriage. A D&C can be a first-line treatment option for clearing the uterus or for instances where your body does not expel all tissue on its own. In this case, a D&C is necessary to stop bleeding and prevent hemorrhage.

A D&C procedure is usually ten to fifteen minutes, but you may stay at the clinic or medical site for up to five hours. During the procedure, you’ll be sedated using either general, epidural or local anesthesia. Your cervix will be dilated to allow a scalpel or vacuum into the uterus to remove tissue associated with pregnancy. This outpatient surgical procedure is generally routine and free of complications. However, as with all medical procedures, there can be risks.

Potential D&C Complications

The most common complication of a D&C, according to the Mayo Clinic, is the perforation of the uterus. In this instance, a cutting object would inadvertently poke a hole in the wall of the uterus during the clearing of the pregnancy tissue. These perforations will usually heal on their own and only represent real concern if a blood vessel or secondary organ is damaged.

More rare complications of a D&C include:

  • Damage to the cervix: It is possible for the cervix to be torn during the procedure. If this were to happen, your doctor would apply pressure to the cervix and then use stitches to repair the tear.
  • Scar tissue or adhesions inside of the uterus: Known as Asherman’s syndrome, the development of scar tissue in the uterus happens in roughly thirty percent of D&C patients. This condition, which becomes more likely with each subsequent D&C, can lead to painful, absent or otherwise abnormal menstrual cycles. Additionally, it can lead to difficulty with future fertility, occasionally resulting in increased miscarriages or total infertility.
  • Infection: While incredibly rare, infection can occur following the procedure. Infections are often detected by a fever or odorous vaginal discharge.

Here’s What to Expect After the Brief Surgery

You’ll want to pay close attention to your body after the D&C to ensure that you’re healing properly. You can usually return to your regular activities after a few days, but you may experience mild cramping and light spotting. It is recommended that you wear a sanitary pad and take pain relievers if necessary. Your next menstrual cycle also might come early or late after the procedure.

Be sure to call your doctor right away if you experience heavy bleeding, bleeding lasting longer than two weeks, fever, cramping lasting more than forty eight hours, foul smelling discharge, or pain that gets worse as the days progress.

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Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 26 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for over two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for intended parents, surrogates and donors. She is the co-owner of Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national Emeritus board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman’s is the author of the book, Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Conari Press 2019) as well as the children's book You Began as a Wish (Independent Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. She has two adult daughters.