Is 'Septic Uterus' a Thing?

uterus illustration

Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The term "septic uterus" is being used often on social media in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned.
  • Despite its heavy use, it’s not an actual medical term.
  • OB-GYNs say that someone can develop sepsis as a result of a miscarriage or botched abortion.

There has been a lot of talk—and even more social media posts—about the impact of overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark legislation that guaranteed the federal right to have an abortion. Now that the Supreme Court has actually overturned the legislation and the legality of abortion is left to states to decide, many are concerned about the fallout for reproductive health beyond abortion.

One phrase that keeps coming up? "Septic uterus."

"I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a thousand times: The treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, a septic uterus, or a miscarriage that your body won’t release is abortion,” wrote one person on Twitter. “If you can’t get those abortions, you die. You. Die."

"Ectopic pregnancy. Incomplete miscarriage. Septic uterus. YOU DIE if you have any of these and can’t get an abortion," tweeted another. "For the 'saving babies lives' crowd…your wife or girlfriend or mistress will die if unable to get an abortion with any of the above. Please research."

But for all of the online chatter, can your uterus actually become septic? Not exactly. OB-GYNs explain the term "septic uterus" is likely referring to uterine conditions, procedures, or infections that happen to lead to sepsis.

What Do People Mean By 'Septic Uterus'?

It’s important to note that septic uterus isn’t a medical term, but it may be used to refer to a few different things that can happen that could lead to sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection that moves to the blood and triggers a life-threatening medical emergency.

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis occurs when a localized infection moves into the bloodstream. As the infection moves through the body, the resulting inflammatory response can cause fever, increased heart rate, and trouble breathing. The most severe level of sepsis, called septic shock, can lead to multi-organ failure and death.

Sepsis During or After Pregnancy

Maternal sepsis is responsible for 11% of maternal deaths globally, and primarily happens in low-income countries.

"Maternal sepsis, sometimes referred to colloquially as a 'septic uterus,' is a severe bacterial infection that occurs during pregnancy or in the days following a delivery,” women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, told Verywell.

Sepsis During Miscarriage

Women can also develop sepsis if they have a miscarriage, which is sometimes called a "spontaneous abortion" if it occurs before 20 weeks gestation, Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, told Verywell. "If that happens, you need to do two things: start antibiotics and clean out the remaining tissue in the uterus with a dilation and curettage."

What Is a Dilation and Curettage?

Dilation and curettage (D&C) is a surgical procedure that opens the cervix and uses a thin instrument to remove tissue from the inside of the uterus. It is often done after a miscarriage, and is considered an abortion procedure.

Sepsis During Abortion

Any time surgical instruments are used to perform an abortion, which is necessary for abortions after 10 weeks gestations (pills can be used in the first trimester), "there is always the possibility of an infection," Minkin said. The risks of infection are much higher for illegal abortions.

"There are many bacteria in the vagina which can be introduced into the uterus during the procedure," Minkin said. "If a lot of tissue is left in the uterus, an infection can ensue in the remaining tissue. This is can be especially problematic if the person doing the procedure isn't properly trained."

Wider said this can turn into a wide-spread, life-threatening infection, including sepsis, if not immediately addressed. Treatment for a uterine infection requires antibiotics and removal of remaining infected tissue.

Symptoms of Sepsis

According to Minkin, symptoms of sepsis associated with the uterus include:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Fever
  • Shaking
  • Chills
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Vaginal odor

Minkin said the vaginal odor is particularly strong and foul.

"Because of the large number of what we call anaerobic bacteria which typically grow in these cases, a woman will develop a very powerful and bad odor,” she said. “The odor can be truly overwhelming."

What This Means For You

Be wary of inaccurate trending terms on social media, such as "septic uterus." While septic uterus is not a medical term, it’s often used to describe situations where someone may develop sepsis as the result of a miscarriage or botched abortion.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is sepsis?

  2. Merck Manual Professional Version. Sepsis and septic shock.

  3. Bonet M, Brizuela V, Abalos E, et al. Frequency and management of maternal infection in health facilities in 52 countries (GLOSS): A 1-week inception cohort studyThe Lancet Global Health. 2020;8(5):e661-e671. doi:10.1016/S2214-109X(20)30109-1

  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dilation and curettage.

  5. Shields A, de Assis V, Halscott T. Top 10 pearls for the recognition, evaluation, and management of maternal sepsisObstetrics & Gynecology. 2021;138(2):289-304. doi:10.1097%2FAOG.0000000000004471

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.