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Therapeutic Abortion: Medical
(Abortion; Mifeprex; Mifepristone; RU-486)
Therapeutic abortion is the ending of a pregnancy on purpose. A medical abortion is done by taking medicines. This procedure is done in very early pregnancy. It can be done up to 7 weeks.
This process is not the same as emergency contraception. An abortion ends an established pregnancy. Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy.
|Female Reproductive Organs|
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Reasons for Procedure
A therapeutic abortion may be done to:
- Preserve the mother’s physical and mental health
- End a pregnancy that tests have shown would result in a child with severe abnormalities
Complications are rare. But, no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have an abortion, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
- Allergic reaction
- Heavy bleeding
- Incomplete procedure
A medical abortion is unsuccessful about 5% of the time. If the abortion was not complete, you may need more medication or a surgical abortion to end the pregnancy.
It is best to do the procedure as early in the pregnancy as possible. This decreases the chance of complications. If you think you might be pregnant, see your doctor. The earlier you find out, the more time you have to make an informed choice about the pregnancy. Early symptoms of pregnancy include:
- A missed period
- Tender, swollen breasts
- Nausea or vomiting
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may:
- Examine you to determine the stage of your pregnancy by checking the size of the uterus
- Do blood and urine tests to confirm the pregnancy
- Use ultrasound to give an accurate assessment of the stage of pregnancy
No anesthesia will be used.
Description of Procedure
- First, you take a medicine in your doctor's office. The medicine stops the pregnancy. Depending on the medicine used, it may be given by mouth, as a shot, or it may be inserted into the vagina.
- The first step is often followed by giving another type of medicine 1-3 days later.
- Lastly, your doctor makes sure the procedure is complete by doing an ultrasound or a blood test.
How Long Will It Take?
The process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The amount of time depends on the specific drugs used.
Will It Hurt?
- Feel lightheaded
- Have strong cramps
- Feel nauseous
- Have temporary abdominal pain
- Have temporary mild fever or chills
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce most of these symptoms. Do not take aspirin unless directed to by your doctor.
After a therapeutic abortion:
- You may have cramps and bleeding.
- You may also have nausea and diarrhea.
- You should not douche or use vaginal medicines until your doctor allows it.
- You can shower or bathe.
- Do not have sex for at least 1 week.
- You should recover within a couple of days.
- Make sure you return to see your doctor for follow-up.
Sudden hormone changes may increase natural feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, and regret. Most doctors can offer or refer you to follow-up counseling.
Call Your Doctor
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:
- Increasing abdominal pain
- Heavy vaginal bleeding (greater than 1 pad per hour)
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Medical abortion. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/unplannedpregnancy/medicalabortions.html. Updated May 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016.
Medical abortion. Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region website. Available at: http://www.rqhealth.ca/womens-and-childrens-health/therapeutic-abortion. Accessed March 24, 2016.
What is medical abortion? National Abortion Federation website. Available at: http://www.prochoice.org/about%5Fabortion/facts/medical%5Fabortion.html. Accessed March 24, 2016.
1/11/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Robson SC, Kelly T, Deverill M, et al. Randomised preference trial of medical versus surgical termination of pregnancy less than 14 weeks' gestation (TOPS). Health Technol Assess. 2009;13(53):1-124.
- Reviewer: Andrea Chisholm, MD
- Review Date: 03/2016
- Update Date: 05/20/2015