The study appears in the August 18, 2005, New England Journal of Medicine.
The drug, misoprostol, has been used to reduce the risk of stomach ulcers that occur in people who take certain pain relievers for arthritis. Misoprostol is now more commonly used to induce labor, as it stimulates contractions of the uterus.
In recent years, physicians have begun prescribing misoprostol in place of surgery to women who have experienced a miscarriage. Until the current study, however, no large-scale studies have been undertaken to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the drug in treating miscarriage.
“This is the first comprehensive study to show that misoprostol is an effective alternative to surgery in the treatment of miscarriage,?said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. “Unlike conventional surgery, which is usually conducted in an operating room, treatment with misoprostol can be done on an out-patient basis.?/p>
The study authors wrote that pregnancy failure, or miscarriage, occurs in 15 percent of pregnancies. With miscarriage, in some cases, a fetus dies in the womb, explained the study’s first author, Jun Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator in the Epidemiology Branch of NICHD’s Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research. In other cases, a fetus may no longer be present, and women may carry a placenta and sac of amniotic fluid.
In all of these cases, the standard treatment is a surgical procedure known as vacuum aspiration. In this procedure, the cervix is dilated, and a suction device is used to remove the uterine contents. As an alternative, women and their doctors may choose