Dilation and Curettage (D&C) (cont.)
During the Dilation and Curettage Procedure
Local anesthesia: If the patient has a local anesthetic, she will lie on your back in the standard pelvic examination position: legs apart and the knees drawn up. The doctor will insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina to hold the vagina wall apart. The doctor or assistant will then clean the inner and outer vagina, including the cervix, with a cleaning solution. The doctor will then steady the cervix with a clamp and inject a local anesthetic into the cervix on either side. This is called a paracervical block and relieves pain from the dilating of the cervix. It does not numb any of the rest of the body.
Spinal anesthesia: A needle is placed in the lower back, usually while the patient is sitting up. Anesthetic is injected through this needle into the spinal fluid that surrounds the spinal cord. This causes numbness usually from the level of the belly button on down. The anesthesia wears off in 1-3 hours.
General anesthesia: If general anesthesia is given, the patient will not be aware of anything including the cleaning step, after the patient loses consciousness. The patient will lie on the table with an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist at the head. The paitent may be given an injection of medication to assist in relaxing the patient and to dry up any oral secretions. The patient will then receive an intravenous fast-acting anesthetic and immediately fall asleep for the procedure and the patient's breathing will be monitored.
Dilation (the first step): While grasping the cervix with a clamp, the doctor will pass a thin, flexible piece of metal called a sound to determine the depth and angle of the uterus. These measurements allow the doctor to know how far into the uterus the curette can be safely inserted. The usual method of dilation is to insert a thin, smooth metal rod gently along the vaginal canal and up into the tiny cervical opening. The rod is left in place for a moment, then withdrawn and replaced by a slightly larger rod. This process is repeated until the cervix has expanded to about the width of a finger. This method takes about 10 minutes. If the patient is under local anesthesia, she may experience crampy discomfort caused by stretching of the cervical muscles to accommodate the rods. Another method being used with increasing frequency is to insert laminaria tents (cigarette-shaped pieces of a special dried seaweed) into the cervix 8-20 hours before the procedure. The laminaria absorb water from the tissues and swell up, slowly distending and dilating the cervical canal. This is less traumatic than using the metal dilators.
Hysteroscopy and curettage (the second step): After dilation, the doctor holds the vagina open again with the speculum. The doctor may also reach into the cervix with a tiny spoon to obtain a specimen of the cervical lining. At this point, the hysteroscope is usually inserted into the uterus so that the doctor may look at the inside of the uterus. The doctor may see fibroids, polyps, or overgrowths of the endometrium. At that time, instruments may be inserted through the hysteroscope and biopsy, or removal, of the fibroids, polyps, or endometrial overgrowths may be accomplished.
The doctor will now place a slightly longer and larger curette through the dilated cervix and up into the uterus. This is a metal loop on the end of a long, thin handle. With steady, gentle strokes, the doctor will scrape or suction the uterine wall. This tissue is sent to the lab for analysis. When the curettage is completed, the instruments are removed.
If under local anesthesia, the patient will probably experience a tugging sensation deep in the abdomen as the curetting is performed. If this is too painful, the patient should tell the doctor, who may then order pain medicine.
The entire procedure, including curettage takes about 20 minutes. At the end, the patient may have cramps that may last about 30 minutes; however, some women experience cramps for a much longer period of time.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/11/2014
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