Misoprostol (also known as Cytotec produced by Pfizer) is a synthetic prostaglandin E1 analogue which causes uterine contractions that empty the uterus. Initially developed for the treatment of gastric ulcers, misoprostol was found to have numerous gynecological indications including treatment of missed or incomplete miscarriage (or termination), or retained placenta following full term delivery, postpartum hemorrhaging (PPH) and labour induction. The advantage of using misoprostol for miscarriage/retained placenta management is the avoidance of the invasive, costly and potentially damaging D&C procedure (eg. Asherman's syndrome).
Misoprostol is on the WHO essential medicine list for abortion induction (in combination with mifepristone) and labour induction. Earlier this year the ACOG published a committee opinion supporting the worldwide availability of misoprostol for postabortion care (both spontaneous and induced), acknowledging its ability to prevent needless deaths in developing nations (1). It has been approved in more than 85 countries since 1985. Yet in all but 4 countries (France, Brazil, Taiwan and Egypt) it has only been approved for use in gastric ulcers. It seems that the major obstacle to the US’s FDA approval of misoprostol for gynecological indications is the original manufacturer's refusal to permit the drug to be used for pregnancy-related applications for moral rather than medical reasons: misoprostol can also be used for terminations (2). As long as those with other agendas can proclaim that misoprostol is 'not FDA (or TGA in Australia) approved' and is being used ‘off-label’, they can continue to at least imply that the reasons for this are safety-related, creating fear or uncertainty in patients and doctors alike. In fact, misoprostol is one of the most widely studied prostaglandins and has undergone hundreds of clinical trials for over 20 years. In comparison, by today's high safety and medical ethics standards, there is little doubt that the century-old blind, invasive D&C would fail to gain approval for routine use. Off label use of medication is not only legal, it is also safe when backed by years of clinical trials assessing safety. Unbeknownst to many, off label use of other Obstetric drugs is commonplace.
Could there be another underlying conflict in the D&C versus misoprostol/medical management- a hidden competition between doctors who perfom surgery and the pharmaceutical industry which produces the drug over financial gain from miscarriages/terminations? From the publications of some doctors at least it would appear that the pharmaceutical industry bowing to anti-abortion lobbyists (2) is the main obstacle rather than the collective rejection of doctors to use misoprostol. Having said this, some doctors remain ignorant about its use and hesitant to learn more. More needs to be done to educate doctors on the use of misoprostol for medical management of miscarriage, beginning in medical school where they are instead trained to peform D&Cs for just about every gynecological condition encountered.
To date there is one randomized control trial comparing the use of misoprostol to D&C for treatment of miscarriage with regards to intrauterine adhesion outcomes. Not surprisingly, this study suggests misoprostol would reduce the incidence of intrauterine adhesions (3). Although these results seem intuitive, in medicine (and science) studies are always needed as evidence, especially when a ‘standard’ treatment is to be usurped by a newer method which some doctors seem inexplicably reluctant to embrace. More such studies would also be helpful in putting to rest the ‘subclinical’ infection myth or other unsubstantiated hypotheses on the etiology of Asherman’s syndrome which somehow shift blame away from instrumentation to a yet unproven and uncharacterized patient factor (eg. patient constitution or a ‘naturally’ occurring physiological phenomenon in the absence of surgery).
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons Gynecological/Obstetric practice has been slow to keep up with research with regards to the use of medical management for miscarriage. Although there are thankfully some doctors who have incorporated misoprostol management of miscarriage into their arsenal of treatments, my experience is that they are far too few and far between at least in some countries. This is inexcusable given the risks of infertility and future obstetric complications in women who have undergone D&C, still regarded as the 'standard care' for treating missed or incomplete miscarriages. Not only is misoprostol effective, it can be used in both first and second trimester pregnancy losses.
The misoprostol.org website provides a useful table summarizing guidelines for using misoprostol for different obstetric indications and at different stages of pregnancy. Like any drug, it must be used according to guidelines and under medical supervision.
I also came across a very helpful website where women shared their experiences with using misoprostol for miscarriage.
I am adding the site to the links to the right of this blog in the hope that it will help enlighten women to the existence of medical management and what to expect. It is a longer process to use misoprostol (and more painful particularly if used for second trimester losses), however these disadvantages pale significantly against the potential complications of D&C. The more women who become aware about Asherman's syndrome and future high risk pregnancies, the more will request misoprostol treatment, hopefully forcing changes in practice and policies of standard treatment for miscarriage.
1. ACOG. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 427: Misoprostol for postabortion care.
Obstet Gynecol 2009;113(2 Pt 1):465-8.
2. Misoprostol and the debate over off-label drug use (Commentary): BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
March 2005, Vol. 112, pp. 269–272. Link to full pdf
3. Tam, WH, Lau, WC, Cheung, LP, Yuen, PM, and Chung, TK. Intrauterine
adhesions after conservative and surgical management of spontaneous abortion. J
Am Assoc Gynecol Laparosc 2002;9(2):182-5.
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