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Women's Health

New Regimen Gives Abortion Drug More Flexible Timing

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The process was 98% effective when women took the second drug one or two days after taking the Mifeprex and 96% effective when they took the misoprostol three days later. The FDA-approved combination of Mifeprex and misoprostol, which is taken orally, is 92% to 95% effective at ending pregnancy, according to Danco, the company that distributes Mifeprex in the U.S.

Schaff says some women assigned to take misoprostol on the third day actually took it earlier than scheduled, perhaps because of anxiety. But he says as long as a woman waits at least 24 hours, but no more than 72 hours after taking the Mifeprex, the process is as effective as the FDA-approved oral regimen and causes relatively few side effects.

The most common side effect was bleeding, which began less than four hours after most women took the misoprostol. Schaff says heavy bleeding that required medical attention was rare. Nevertheless, all women were sent home with instructions to have an emergency plan to seek care if the bleeding became excessive.

"What we're showing is that there is some flexibility," says Schaff, associate professor of family medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester in New York.

Mitchell Creinin, MD, an associate professor and director of family planning at the University of Pittsburgh, agrees.

"She can use the misoprostol at a time that works better in her life -- when she is able to get someone to watch the kids, when she can have her partner with her, etc," says Creinin, who was not involved in the study.

"If your partner was going away in two days on a business trip, it is nice to know that you can use the misoprostol in 24 hours, when he is still there to be there with you, and not compromise [effectiveness]. Or, if you have a day off in three days and would rather wait until then, it's nice to know that you can do so," Creinin tells WebMD.

Another important thing about the new study is that the researchers included women who were up to eight weeks pregnant. The FDA has only approved pill-induced abortions for women up to seven weeks pregnant. But Schaff says his research is showing that the procedure is safe at eight, and possibly even nine weeks, which could increase the number of women who would be eligible for a pill-induced abortion.

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