What to Know About the Abortion Pill Side Effects

What to Know About the Abortion Pill Side Effects
What to Know About the Abortion Pill Side Effects

Veda has used both the so-called abortion pill and a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure to end two separate pregnancies. 

When she was 20, the now 27-year-old mother of a healthy toddler went to a clinic to get the abortion pill, a shorthand name for two different medicines, mifepristone, sold under the brand name Mifeprex, and misoprostol, which are taken a few days apart.

“I experienced heavy bleeding, cramping, then dizziness,” she explained, describing the side effects caused by the pills. “It felt like a menstrual cycle, except for the dizziness.” 

Once Veda thought she might be pregnant, she had gone to a local clinic known for abortions, had an exam and met with a counselor who reviewed her options and told her specifically how the medicine works and about its effectiveness. After taking the medicine, Veda found that she could go about her normal routine, driving and handling tasks and didn’t need to rest any more than usual. She took Tylenol (acetaminophen), which helped ease cramping. Overall, she described the whole process as a “good experience.”

A Second Time

Two years later when Veda became pregnant again, she tried the abortion pill, but it didn’t work. She then had a D&C procedure at the same clinic. The surgical procedure was effective, but she was put off by the experience. She found the clinic’s atmosphere cold and lacking in the absolute privacy she had at home taking the pills. “I had to wear a hospital gown, go under anesthesia, and also had to have someone pick me up later,” none of which she liked.

Carrie Griffin, DO, an osteopathic family medicine physician in Eureka, Calif., agrees that Veda’s experiences are typical, in terms of side effects. and adds that, like Veda, women can go on to give birth to healthy children later.

What Is the Abortion Pill?

The so-called abortion pill, also known as medication, or medical abortion, involves taking in quick succession of two pills: Mifeprex (mifepristone) and misoprostol. Mifepristone blocks the body’s own hormone progesterone, which is necessary to help the fetus grow. When the hormone is blocked, it’s the first step in terminating the fetus’ development.

Either immediately afterward or up to 48 hours later, the patient takes misoprostol. It is then that you may experience cramping and heavy bleeding, as misoprostol causes the body to empty the uterus. 

According to those who have used it and to doctors who prescribe it, the time after taking misportol feels like you are having a very heavy, crampy period and mimics the symptoms of an early miscarriage. Some women also may have diarrhea, headache and slight fever. This stage can last from five to 24 hours. If you don’t experience those symptoms after taking misoprostol, it’s best to see a doctor right away, because it’s likely the pregnancy has not been terminated.

To relieve any pain or discomfort, doctors recommend taking a hot shower or Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) or using a heating pad. 

You can only get the abortion pill through a doctor’s office, either in person or by a telehealth appointment, an abortion clinic or Planned Parenthood. It can cost up to $750, which may be covered by insurance. If not, often the clinic can help you find ways to reduce the drugs’ price.

The Abortion Pill’s Popularity Surges

Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the medication more than 20 years ago, it has grown in popularity. The pro-choice abortion research organization the Guttmacher Institute reported that as of 2020, more than half, 54% of US abortions were medication ones; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of the reported abortions were completed in the first eight weeks of pregnancy using medication.

The CDC’s “Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report Suveillance Summary 2021” indicated that early medical, or medication, abortion increased by 123% from 2010 to 2019, including a 10% jump between 2018 and 2019 alone. The CDC report also noted that despite that rise, the overall the rate of abortions, including those performed surgically, dropped between 2010 and 2019.

The abortion pill’s surge isn’t surprising, because many experts and patients think it’s easier than having a surgical abortion and it’s highly effective, too: for people who are eight to nine weeks pregnant, medical abortion works about 94 to 96 out of 100 times, reports Planned Parenthood.

When to Seek Medical Attention After Taking the Abortion Pill

Planned Parenthood recommends you see a doctor soon after you’ve finished your regimen of pills if you have any concerns. The following symptoms require immediate attention:

  • No bleeding within 24 hours after taking the second medicine (misoprostol)
  • Heavy bleeding that soaks through more than two maxi pads in an hour, for two or more hours in a row
  • Large clots (bigger than a lemon) dropping for more than two hours
  • Belly pain or cramps that don’t get better with medication
  • Fever of 100.4 or higher after taking misoprostol
  • Weakness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that continues more than 24 hours after taking misoprostol
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