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Very early medical abortion: treatment with mifepristone and misoprostol before ultrasonographic visualisation of an intrauterine pregnancy


Introduction Abortion providers may be reluctant to commence abortion before ultrasound evidence of intrauterine pregnancy (IUP) due to concerns of missed ectopic pregnancy. In 2017, very early medical abortion (VEMA) was introduced at an abortion service in Edinburgh, UK. Following ultrasound, patients without confirmed IUP, and without symptoms or risk factors for ectopic pregnancy, could commence treatment immediately after baseline serum-human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) measurement, and return for follow-up serum-hCG a week later to determine treatment success (≥80% decline from baseline). This study aimed to compare clinical outcomes between two pathways: (1) VEMA; and (2) standard-of-care delayed treatment where treatment is only commenced on IUP confirmation by serial serum-hCG monitoring and/or repeat ultrasound.

Methods A retrospective database review was conducted of VEMA eligible patients from July 2017 to December 2021. Study groups were determined by patient preference. Records were searched for abortion outcomes, duration of care, number of appointments (clinic visits, ultrasounds, serum-hCG) and clinical data entries.

Results Of 181 patients included, 77 (43%) chose VEMA and 104 (57%) chose delayed treatment. 11/181 (6.1%) were lost to follow-up. Cohort ectopic prevalence was 4.4% and was not statistically different between groups (2.6% vs 5.8%, VEMA vs delayed group, respectively, p=0.305), as with complete abortion rates (93.3% vs 97.6%, p=0.256). All VEMA group ectopics were detected on the seventh day (from initial visit) while time-to-diagnosis for delayed group ectopics ranged from 7 days to 3 weeks. VEMA patients had significantly reduced duration of care (12 vs 21 days, p<0.001), number of visits (2 vs 3, p<0.001), ultrasounds (1 vs 2, p<0.001) and data entries (6 vs 9, p<0.001).

Conclusions VEMA is safe, effective and reduces the duration of care, number of appointments and clinical administrative time. It should be offered to medically eligible patients.

  • Mifepristone
  • Patient Safety
  • Reproductive Health
  • Health Services Research
  • family planning services
  • abortion, induced

Data availability statement

No data are available. Due to the sensitive nature of abortion data, no further patient data are available to be shared.

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