Dilation and Curettage Explained: What to Expect and Tips for Recovery

Medically Reviewed By Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
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Dilation and curettage (D and C) is common procedure that removes tissue from the uterus. D and C surgery is an outpatient procedure. People who undergo it are usually able to go home the same day. D and C is one of the most frequently performed procedures in the United States. Doctors may use D and C to diagnose or treat a condition. Someone who experiences a miscarriage may undergo a D and C procedure.

The procedure’s name refers to the dilation of the lower part of the uterus (also known as the cervix) with instruments or medications. This allows doctors to remove tissue using an instrument called a curette.

This article will provide an overview of D and C, including the reasons doctors perform it. It will also discuss what to expect during a D and C procedure and tips for recovery.

Sex and gender terms

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “women” and “female” to refer to sex assigned at birth in order to accurately reflect language used in source materials.

Reasons for a D and C

Your medical team might recommend a D and C procedure for either diagnosis or treatment purposes. You may also choose to have D and C. The following sections provide more detail about the primary reasons you may undergo D and C.

Following miscarriage

Pregnancy losses after 10 weeks typically require D and C, since some tissue may remain in the uterus after a miscarriage.

Some people may choose to miscarry without medical assistance once the pregnancy has been lost, while others choose to undergo D and C. This is a personal decision that you can make with guidance from your OB-GYN.

Doctors may recommend D and C in certain situations, including:

  • miscarriage after 10–12 weeks
  • pregnancy complications in the birthing parent
  • medical conditions that may require emergency care

Pregnancy termination

For people who choose to end a pregnancy in the first trimester, one procedural option is a D and C. The choice to terminate a pregnancy is highly personal. Your

OB-GYN can talk you through available options and risk factors. They can also address any concerns you may have.

For diagnosis

A D and C procedure allows doctors to remove a sample of tissue from the uterus. They can examine these cells under a microscope to diagnose or evaluate conditions, including:

  • uterine cancer
  • endometrial cancer
  • causes of irregular bleeding, such as fibroids, polyps, or hyperplasia
  • complicated early pregnancy

During D and C, doctors may also perform a hysteroscopy. This procedure uses a lighted camera on a thin, flexible tube to examine the inside of the uterus.

For treatment

Doctors may need to perform D and C to remove tissue from the uterus as a treatment for certain conditions, such as:

  • chronic or excessive bleeding that does not improve with other medical treatment
  • tissue that remains in the uterus after miscarriage, abortion, or childbirth
  • a molar pregnancy, when a tumor forms instead of a placenta

How do I prepare for a D and C?

Woman in doctor's office speaking with female doctor
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A D and C is an outpatient procedure. Your doctor will provide specific guidelines according to your medical history and the reasons for undergoing surgery.

Steps to prepare ahead of your D and C procedure include:

  • Talk with your doctor about previous allergic reactions to medications, including bleeding disorders.
  • Tell your doctor about any medications you take, particularly insulin and blood thinners.
  • Plan to take 2–3 days off from work or school.
  • Arrange for a ride home after the procedure.
  • Follow your care team’s instructions for not eating or drinking ahead of the surgery.

What should I expect during a D and C procedure?

D and C is a short, outpatient procedure. It may take place in your

OB-GYN’s office, in a hospital, or in an outpatient clinic.

You will receive an anesthetic to help you relax and, in some cases, put you to sleep during the procedure. Your anesthesiologist will discuss your options and can address any questions or concerns you may have.

During the procedure:

  • A nurse will monitor your blood pressure, pulse, and oxygen levels.
  • The doctor will ask you to lie back on an examination table, similar to having a gynecological exam. You will rest your feet in stirrups and a sheet will cover your knees. 
  • Your doctor will insert a speculum to dilate the cervix.
  • Your doctor will then insert a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette to remove tissue from the uterus.

In some cases, if the curette does not loosen the tissue, the doctor may use a suction device. This process is called suction curettage.

After the procedure is complete, your care team will move you to a recovery area. Once you are fully awake, you will receive instructions for recovery after you leave.

Is a D and C painful? 

During a D and C, you will be under local or regional anesthesia. You may experience mild cramping for several days following the procedure. Your doctor can recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications.

How long does it take? 

The procedure takes approximately 15–30 minutes, though exceptional cases may take longer. After the surgery, you will wait in the recovery room for a few hours.   

Will it affect my menstrual cycle?

If you menstruate, you should expect to resume your menstrual cycle within 2–6 weeks of your D and C procedure.

When to call your doctor or nurse

The overall risk of complications from D and C is low. However, as with any surgical procedure, complications can occur.

Contact your care team right away if you experience symptoms, including:

D and C recovery at home

Once you are home, you may experience mild spotting or bleeding. Because you may still feel drowsy from the anesthesia, it is important to have someone with you for the first 24 hours of recovery.

Your doctor will talk through steps you should follow after a D and C procedure, including:

  • avoiding the use of tampons
  • avoiding vaginal intercourse
  • taking OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), to relieve cramping
  • taking showers instead of baths
  • avoiding swimming

Most people resume their daily activities within 2 days after D and C. 

Potential risks of D and C

Serious complications after a D and C procedure are rare, but may include: 

  • urinary tract infection 
  • anesthesia-related issues
  • infection in the uterus
  • uterine perforation
  • persistent bleeding
  • Asherman’s syndrome, a scarring of the cervix

Contact your

OB-GYN right away if you notice signs of infection, including pain, fever, or unusual vaginal discharge.

Frequently asked questions

Other questions people often ask about D and C include:

Is D and C an abortion?

D and C is one procedural method of terminating an early pregnancy. Depending on the laws where you live, this may be an abortion option before 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Can having a D and C affect your chances of getting pregnant later in life? 

One 2007 study found an increased risk of postpartum bleeding in people who underwent a previous D and C procedure. However, there is no evidence that a D and C procedure affects long-term fertility. Talk with your

OB-GYN if you have concerns about your fertility following D and C.

What is the cost of D and C? 

The cost of a D and C surgery will depend on your unique medical situation, the type of insurance coverage you have, and the site of service.

Summary

D and C is a common outpatient surgery in which doctors dilate the cervix and use an instrument called a curette to remove tissue from the uterus.

Doctors use D and C to diagnose or treat certain conditions of the uterus. D and C is also one procedural option for the early termination of a pregnancy.

Complications from D and C are rare but can occur. Talk with your doctor about any risk factors, how to prepare, and what to expect during recovery from a D and C procedure.

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Medical Reviewer: Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 28
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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