Conference Coverage

Early pregnancy loss and abortion: Medical management is safe, effective



– Medical management of abortion and early pregnancy loss is best achieved with both mifepristone and misoprostol, according to Sarah W. Prager, MD.

Dr. Sarah Prager, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington, Seattle

Dr. Sarah Prager

First-trimester procedures account for about 90% of elective abortions, with about two-thirds of those occurring before 8 weeks of gestation and 80% occurring in the first 10 weeks – and therefore considered eligible for medical management, Dr. Prager, director of the Family Planning Division and Family Planning Fellowship at the University of Washington, Seattle, said at the annual clinical and scientific meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“We estimate that it’s approximately 31% of all abortions that are done using medication, but it’s about 45% of those eligible by gestational age,” she noted.

The alternative is uterine aspiration, and in the absence of a clear contraindication, patient preference should determine management choice, she said.

The same is true for early pregnancy loss (spontaneous abortion), which is the most common complication of early pregnancy, occurring in about 20% of clinically recognized pregnancies.

“That means that there are about 1 million spontaneous abortions happening annually in the United States, and about 80% of those are in the first trimester,” Dr. Prager said.

Expectant management is an additional option for managing early pregnancy loss, she noted.


Medical management is appropriate for patients who are undergoing elective abortion at up to about 70 days of gestation or with pregnancy loss in the first trimester.

“They should have stable vital signs, no evidence of infection, no allergies to the medications being used, no serious social or medical problems,” Dr. Prager said, explaining that “a shared decision making process” is important for patients with extreme anxiety or homelessness/lack of stable housing, for example, in order to make sure that medical management is a good option.

“While she definitely gets to have the final say, unless there is a real medical contraindication, it definitely should be part of that decision making,” Dr. Prager said, adding that adequate counseling and acceptance by the patient of the risks and side effects also are imperative.


The most effective evidence-based treatment protocol for elective abortion through day 70 of gestation includes a 200-mg oral dose of mifepristone, followed 24-72 hours later with at-home buccal or vaginal administration of an 800-mcg dose of misoprostol, with follow up within 1-2 weeks, Dr. Prager said, citing a 2010 Cochrane review.

The Food and Drug Administration–approved protocol, which was updated in April 2016, adheres closely to those findings, except that it calls for misoprostol within 48 hours of mifepristone dosing. Optional repeat dosing of misoprostol is allowed, as well, she noted.

Buccal or vaginal administration of misoprostol is preferable to oral and sublingual administration because while the latter approaches provide more rapid onset, the former approaches provide significantly better sustained action over a 5-hour period of time.

“And by not having that big peak at the beginning, it actually decreases the side effects that women experience with the misoprostol medication,” she said.

Misoprostol can also be given alone for early pregnancy loss management – also at a dose of 800 mcg buccally or vaginally – with repeat dosing at 12-24 hours for incomplete abortion. However, new data suggest that, before about 63 days of gestation, giving two doses 3 hours apart is slightly more effective. That approach can also be repeated if necessary, Dr. Prager said.

Pain management is an important part of treatment, as both miscarriage and medication abortion can range from uncomfortable to extremely painful, depending on the patient, her prior obstetric experience, and her life experiences.

“I recommend talking to all your patients about pain management. For most people, just using some type of NSAID is probably going to be sufficient,” she said, noting that some women will require a narcotic.

Antiemetic medication may also be necessary, as some women will experience nausea and vomiting.


Next Article: