Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link

Septic Abortion


Antonette T. Dulay

, MD, Main Line Health System

Last full review/revision Oct 2020
Click here for Patient Education
Topic Resources

Septic abortion is serious uterine infection during or shortly before or after an abortion.

Septic abortions usually result from induced abortions done by untrained practitioners using nonsterile techniques; they are much more common when induced abortion is illegal. Infection is less common after spontaneous abortion Spontaneous Abortion Spontaneous abortion is noninduced embryonic or fetal death or passage of products of conception before 20 weeks gestation. Threatened abortion is vaginal bleeding without cervical dilation... read more .

Typical causative organisms include Escherichia coli, Enterobacter aerogenes, Proteus vulgaris, hemolytic streptococci, staphylococci, and some anaerobic organisms (eg, Clostridium perfringens). One or more organisms may be involved.

Symptoms and Signs of Septic Abortion

Symptoms and signs of septic abortion typically appear within 24 to 48 hours after abortion and are similar to those of pelvic inflammatory disease Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a polymicrobial infection of the upper female genital tract: the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries; abscess may occur. PID may be sexually transmitted... read more (eg, chills, fever, vaginal discharge, often peritonitis) and often those of threatened or incomplete abortion (eg, vaginal bleeding, cervical dilation, passage of products of conception). Perforation of the uterus during the abortion typically causes severe abdominal pain.

Septic shock Sepsis and Septic Shock Sepsis is a clinical syndrome of life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated response to infection. In septic shock, there is critical reduction in tissue perfusion; acute failure... read more may result, causing hypothermia, hypotension, oliguria, and respiratory distress. Sepsis due to C. perfringens may result in thrombocytopenia, ecchymoses, and findings of intravascular hemolysis (eg, anuria, anemia, jaundice, hemoglobinuria, hemosiderinuria).

Diagnosis of Septic Abortion

  • Clinical evaluation

  • Cultures to guide antibiotic therapy

  • Ultrasonography

Septic abortion is usually obvious clinically, typically based on finding severe infection in women who are pregnant. Ultrasonography should be done to check for retained products of conception as a possible cause. Uterine perforation should be suspected when women have unexplained severe abdominal pain and peritonitis. Ultrasonography is insensitive for perforation.

When septic abortion is suspected, aerobic and anaerobic cultures of blood are done to help direct antibiotic therapy. Laboratory tests should include complete blood count (CBC) with differential, liver function tests, electrolyte levels, glucose, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and creatinine. Prothrombin time (PT) and partial thromboplastin time (PTT) are done if liver test results are abnormal or if women have excessive bleeding.

Treatment of Septic Abortion

  • Intensive empiric broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy (eg, clindamycin plus gentamicin with or without ampicillin)

  • Uterine evacuation

Treatment of septic abortion is intensive antibiotic therapy plus uterine evacuation as soon as possible. A typical empiric antibiotic regimen includes clindamycin 900 mg IV every 8 hours plus gentamicin 5 mg/kg IV once a day, with or without ampicillin 2 g IV every 4 hours. Alternatively, a combination of ampicillin, gentamicin, and metronidazole 500 mg IV every 8 hours can be used. Antibiotic regimen may be modified based on culture results.

Key Points

  • Septic abortions usually result from induced abortions done by untrained practitioners using nonsterile techniques; they are much more common where induced abortion is illegal.

  • Symptoms and signs (eg, chills, fever, vaginal discharge, peritonitis, vaginal bleeding) typically appear within 24 to 48 hours after an abortion.

  • If septic abortion is suspected, do blood cultures to guide antibiotic therapy.

  • Treat with broad-spectrum antibiotics plus prompt uterine evacuation.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
No US brand name
Click here for Patient Education
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: Click here for the Consumer Version
quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz!