Abortion With Septic Shock

Written by Anna Giorgi
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Wider, MD

What Is Abortion With Septic Shock?

Abortion with septic shock can be a life-threatening illness. An abortion is a procedure that ends a pregnancy. Septic shock occurs when an infection overtakes your body and causes very low blood pressure.

Septic shock can affect anyone susceptible to the germs that cause infection. When linked with abortion, septic shock can be a dangerous complication.

Causes of Abortion With Septic Shock

There are several different types of abortions:

  • A spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) occurs when the fetus and placenta are passed from the body. This occurs without intervention.
  • A surgical abortion is the removal of the fetus and placenta from the woman’s uterus. A vacuum typically is used to extract the pregnancy material.
  • A medical abortion uses prescribed medications. These medications help the mother pass the fetus and related tissue. The result is similar to a miscarriage.
  • A self-induced abortion is done by the mother herself. Typically, non-medical tools or techniques are used at home or another non-medical facility.

Septic shock often occurs after the abortion procedure is completed. It strikes when your body becomes contaminated with a bacterial infection.

In most cases, the infection stays in a specific area. However, in more severe cases, the infection enters your bloodstream and travels throughout your body. This is called a systemic reaction. The resulting condition is called sepsis.

Your body’s initial reaction to sepsis typically involves very low or very high body temperatures. In addition, sepsis also causes:

  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing rate
  • very high or very low white blood cell count

As sepsis weakens your body’s immune responses, your organs begin to fail. When sepsis worsens so that your blood pressure drops dangerously low and is immune to treatment, the condition is called septic shock.

In abortions, two main factors can contribute to the onset of sepsis and ultimately, septic shock. They are:

  • an incomplete abortion: pieces of the pregnancy tissue remain in the body after either a spontaneous or induced abortion
  • the introduction of bacterial infection into the uterus usually during a medical abortion or self-induced abortion

Risk Factors for Abortion With Septic Shock

Your risk for septic shock is increased in situations where bacteria are more likely to enter your bloodstream. Having any surgery or medical procedure puts you at an increased risk for septic shock.

When medical devices are inserted into your body, the device can introduce bacteria. This makes infection and sepsis more likely. The longer the device is in your body, the higher your risk is for infection.

In a surgical abortion, a vacuum is used with a hollow tube to remove the fetus and placenta from the womb. Medical devices, such as catheters, drainage tubes, or breathing tubes can put you at a similar risk of infection.

The risk for septic shock is also significantly increased in self-induced abortion, where non-medical instruments are used. There is less control over germ prevention because many of the common tools are everyday household items and are not sterile.

In addition, having certain underlying conditions prior to an abortion can make you more susceptible to septic shock. They include having a chronic disorder such as diabetes and having a weakened immune system.

Most medical abortion regimens recommend a follow-up ultrasound after the medical abortion has occurred. This examination can help determine if any of the pregnancy materials remain.

Symptoms of Abortion With Septic Shock

Septic shock is a medical emergency. If you recently have had an abortion and experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical help immediately:

  • very high or very low body temperature
  • heavy bleeding
  • severe pain
  • cool, pale arms and legs
  • feelings of confusion, restlessness, or fatigue
  • shaking chills
  • low blood pressure, especially when standing
  • inability to urinate
  • heart palpitations
  • rapid, pounding heart rate
  • difficult, rapid breathing with shortness of breath

Complications of Abortion With Septic Shock

If not treated promptly, septic shock can be fatal. The condition can cause organ failure. It can damage virtually any part of your body.

Typical complications can include:

  • respiratory failure
  • cardiac failure
  • liver failure
  • kidney failure
  • gangrene (body tissues die due to loss of blood)

In cases where septic shock is caused by an incomplete abortion, a total hysterectomy may be necessary to remove the source of the infection. A total hysterectomy removes the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and both ovaries.

Diagnosis of Abortion With Septic Shock

A diagnosis of septic shock can be confirmed with laboratory tests:

  • A blood test can identify bacteria in the bloodstream. Your white blood count, blood oxygen level, and organ functions will also be checked.
  • Samples from your urine, cerebrospinal fluid, and lung mucus will be cultured and tested for bacteria. Tissue samples from wounds may be tested.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans may be performed to identify residual pregnancy matter, obstructions, perforations, or foreign bodies.
  • A chest X-ray may be taken to check for fluid in your lungs or pneumonia.
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) may be done to identify abnormal heart rhythms. An EKG monitors your heart rate. Electrodes are taped to your chest to send the sound of the heart to the monitor. This can help determine whether the heart’s blood supply is affected.

Treatment of Abortion With Septic Shock

Septic shock is a medical emergency that must be treated immediately. Because of the urgency, treatment often begins before the test results can confirm the diagnosis. If you have signs of septic shock after an abortion, you must be immediately admitted to an intensive care unit.

Successful treatment for septic shock is centered on two goals: protection of the vital organs and removal of the source of the infection.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics are given as the first level of treatment. Test results identifying the specific bacteria can take a few days. To improve the chances of killing the bacteria, two or three antibiotics may be combined. Typical antibiotic treatment involves a combination of:

  • ampicillin
  • gentamicin
  • clindamycin or metronidazole

The treatment can be refined once the specific bacteria are identified. Your chances of surviving septic shock increase when you receive antibiotics soon after the abortion.

Your treatment may include:

  • mechanical ventilation (breathing machine)
  • medication (to increase blood pressure)
  • intravenous (IV) fluids (to increase fluid in the bloodstream and blood pressure
  • oxygen)
  • hemodynamic monitoring (evaluation of heart and lung pressure levels)

In some cases, surgery may be necessary. A complete hysterectomy may be performed if the infection is caused by matter from an incomplete abortion.

In other cases, a laparotomy may be performed. A laparotomy is an incision in the abdominal wall that allows for quick access to the abdominal cavity. This may be needed if your physician suspects the infection is caused by:

  • uterine perforation
  • bowel injury
  • abscess
  • soft tissue infection

Prognosis for Abortion With Septic Shock

Septic shock, regardless of the source, has a high mortality rate. Specific circumstances can affect successful treatment. These conditions include:

  • age
  • overall health
  • degree of organ failure
  • timing of the start of medical treatment

How to Prevent Abortion With Septic Shock

Many cases of septic shock can’t be anticipated or prevented. You can reduce your risk of abortion-related septic shock by following these precautions:

  • Consult with a licensed physician or clinic to pursue an elective abortion.
  • Follow the directions exactly as provided for a medical abortion.
  • Never attempt a self-induced abortion.
  • Be aware of the signs of bacterial infection after any type of abortion.
  • Pursue treatment for an infection as soon as possible.
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