D&C Procedure
Dilation And Curettage: Cleaning Out The Womb

medical tests for women

D&C Operation


What Is A D&C?
What Can It Diagnose?
Why Is It Done?
Is A D&C Used For Abortions?
How Is It Performed?
How Long Does It Take?
What Happens After The Procedure?
What Complications Can It Cause?


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What Is A D&C?

A dilation and curettage (D&C) is a surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia. The cervix is opened (dilated) and the contents of the uterus (womb) is removed; curettage means to remove the contents of the womb. Curettage can be done by scraping the womb with a tool called a curette. Or it can be done by suction, a related procedure known as vacuum aspiration or dilation and evacuation (D&E). A D&C can be done to diagnose and treat a number of gynecological conditions.

What Can It Diagnose?

In the past, a D&C was the main procedure for diagnosing suspicious vaginal bleeding, for example it can diagnose:

Uterine fibroids
Uterine polyps
Cervical polyps
Endometrial hyperplasia
Endometrial cancer

It is still performed for this reason today, although other simpler methods are also commonly used (such as endometrial biopsy and hysteroscopy - although hysteroscopy is sometimes combined with a D&C).

Why Is It Done?

A D&C is sometimes performed to stop the cause of heavy periods or bleeding between periods. This may mean removing uterine polyps or fibroids. More commonly it is used to remove bits of remaining placenta tissue after childbirth (postpartum bleeding), a miscarriage or abortion. Nearly 50 percent of women who have a miscarriage have a D&C. If you miscarry on your own before 10 weeks, a D&C is not usually necessary. After 10 weeks, the miscarriage is more likely to be incomplete which means bits of placenta are not expelled from the body. If the placenta remnants are not removed they could lead to hemorrhaging (very heavy bleeding) and infection.

Is A D&C Used For Abortions?

Until 1960, a D&C was the main method for performing abortions, but since then it has been replaced by D&E. A D&E is used to perform an abortion between 8 and 16 weeks. It could be performed up to 23 weeks but in practice it is not done after 18 weeks because the cervix would have to be dilated too much in a short period of time. Read about abortion procedures for more information.

How Is It Performed?

A D&C is usually performed with general anesthesia, although regional anesthesia (such as an epidural in the spine) may also be used. You may need to stay in hospital overnight, although many centers allow their patients home the same day. An IV line will be inserted into your vein so that you can receive medications, including antibiotics to help you fight infections. Once the anesthesia has taken effect the surgeon inserts a speculum into the vagina to keep it open. Next he inserts a narrow instrument called a dilator through the vagina as far as the cervix. Once in place the instrument gently stretches the cervix open. A series of larger dilators are inserted, one after the other, to stretch the cervix gradually, the largest is about 12mm in size. Next the surgeon inserts a spoon-shaped curette which is used to scrape shreds of tissue from the wall (endometrium) of the womb. If there are polyps these are located and removed. Alternatively the doctor may insert a plastic tube called a cannula which is attached to a suction device. When the device is switched on, it sucks up any excess tissue (D&E). After a few minutes, all the instruments are removed. No stitches are required. If performed for diagnostic purposes, the tissue removed will be sent to a pathology lab for testing.

How Long Does It Take?

The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes to perform.

What Happens After The Procedure?

Recovery takes anywhere from a day to a few days. In this time you may experience:

• Mild cramping
• Backache
• Passing small clots of blood.
• Bleeding or staining for up to 2 weeks.

To prevent an infection, avoid the following until all bleeding has stopped (indicating the cervix has closed again):

• Sexual intercourse
• Tampons

Make sure that you attend your follow up appointment which will be 2 weeks after the procedure.

When To Call A Doctor

The following indicate an infection, so call your doctor if you experience:

• Fever or chills
• Foul smelling discharge
• Severe abdominal pain
• Dizziness or fainting
• Prolonged bleeding that lasts over 2 weeks.

Such infections are quite common, but respond well to antibiotics. They should never be ignored or they can lead to more serious problems.

What Complications Can It Cause?

Complications with a D&C are rare. It is possible for the womb to be stabbed (perforated) with a surgical instrument. But even then, it usually heals itself without treatment. Although D&C is a relatively safe surgery, it should not be undertaken unless it is genuinely needed. If there is an infection of the cervix, fallopian tubes or uterus, this should be cleared up before surgery. In recent years D&Cs have been avoided with the introduction of less invasive techniques. Highly sensitive ultrasounds are now able to locate the cause of abnormal bleeding. Small amounts of saline can be inserted into the uterus to make the images even better (known as sonohysterography). Also, transvaginal ultrasound can show if a woman has ovulated or how thick the lining of the endometrium is (thick lining indicates a problem like endometriosis). However, if cancer is suspected, a D&C is still usually necessary.

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For more tests and information, see the following:

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Vaccinations for women: Recommended by time of life.

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