Signs of Incomplete Abortion After Misoprostol: Crucial Indicators to Watch For

Misoprostol, often used with mifepristone, is a medication utilized for early pregnancy termination. As a safe and effective means of non-surgical abortion, it has gained widespread acceptance in many countries. However, in some instances, an incomplete abortion may occur, presenting with specific symptoms that warrant medical attention.

Signs of incomplete abortion following the use of misoprostol include prolonged or excessive bleeding, persistent abdominal pain or cramping, and tissue or clots in the vagina. These symptoms may indicate that not all pregnancy tissue has been expelled, necessitating further medical intervention. It is crucial for individuals who have taken misoprostol to be aware of these signs and to seek prompt medical care if they experience any of them.

In the following article, we will delve deeper into identifying these signs, the possible complications associated with incomplete abortion, and the available treatments to ensure a complete and safe pregnancy resolution.


Signs of Incomplete Abortion

Bleeding and Heavy Bleeding

Incomplete abortion after taking misoprostol can be indicated by persistent or heavy bleeding. In some cases, bleeding may be more severe than a regular menstrual period. It is essential to monitor the bleeding as excessive or prolonged bleeding can signal an incomplete abortion. In addition, the presence of tissue or large clots may also point to an incomplete abortion.

Cramping and Abdominal Pain

Cramping and abdominal pain are common after misoprostol use. However, if the pain persists over a few days or becomes unbearable, it may be a sign of incomplete abortion. Pay attention to your body and seek medical help if the pain doesn’t subside after a few days or worsens.


Although a mild fever can be a normal side effect of misoprostol, a high or prolonged fever may indicate an incomplete abortion. If you experience a fever that does not go away within a few days, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional.

In summary, the signs of an incomplete abortion after misoprostol may include:

  • Prolonged or heavy bleeding
  • Severe cramping and abdominal pain
  • High or persistent fever
  • Presence of tissue or clots
  • No change in pregnancy symptoms
  • Persistent positive pregnancy test

It is important to be aware of these signs and symptoms and seek medical help if you suspect an incomplete abortion.

Diagnosis and Tests


To diagnose an incomplete abortion, healthcare providers often utilize an ultrasound. This imaging technique helps reveal the presence of any remaining products of conception in the uterus. Ultrasound is a crucial diagnostic tool since continued bleeding, pain, and other symptoms can signify incomplete abortion following misoprostol treatment.

Urine Pregnancy Testing

While less accurate than an ultrasound, a urine pregnancy test might still help detect an incomplete abortion. If hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) levels are still present in the urine, this may indicate the need for further evaluation or intervention. However, it’s important to note that hCG levels can remain detectable for several weeks after a complete abortion, decreasing the test’s reliability. Healthcare providers should consider combining urine pregnancy testing with other diagnostic methods for a definitive diagnosis.

Transvaginal Ultrasound

A transvaginal ultrasound is another valuable tool for diagnosing incomplete abortion. By inserting a transducer into the vagina, healthcare providers can obtain a clear image of the uterus, revealing any remaining tissue or products of conception. This method benefits cases with challenging ultrasound views or when the uterus has not yet fully contracted.

During the diagnosis and testing process for an incomplete abortion after misoprostol, healthcare providers should consider the patient’s symptoms and utilize several different diagnostic techniques. A thorough evaluation using ultrasound, urine pregnancy testing, and transvaginal ultrasound can help ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Treatment Options


Curettage is a procedure where a doctor scrapes the remaining pregnancy tissue from the uterus using a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette. This method may remove any remaining tissues after an incomplete abortion with misoprostol. It is typically performed under local anesthesia and can help stop prolonged bleeding and prevent infection.

Vacuum Aspiration

Vacuum aspiration is another option for treating an incomplete abortion. This method involves using a small vacuum or suction device to remove the remaining tissue from the uterus. It is considered a safe and effective treatment method with a lower complication risk than curettage.

Surgical Intervention

Surgical intervention may sometimes be necessary to treat an incomplete abortion. This can include a dilation and curettage (D&C) or a dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure. These procedures involve dilating the cervix and using specialized instruments to remove any remaining pregnancy tissue. Surgical intervention is typically reserved for cases where other treatment methods have been unsuccessful or if there is a risk of complications, such as infection or heavy bleeding.

Expectant Management

Expectant management is a wait-and-see approach to treating an incomplete abortion. With this method, medical professionals monitor the patient’s condition and allow the remaining tissues to pass naturally from the uterus. This may take several days or weeks. Expectant management is typically recommended when the risk of complications is low, and the patient is stable and comfortable with waiting.

Medical Abortion

Sometimes, a medical abortion may be used as a treatment option for an incomplete abortion. This involves administering medication, such as additional doses of misoprostol or mifepristone, to help expel the remaining pregnancy tissue. Medical abortion can be effective in promoting the complete expulsion of pregnancy tissue but may require close monitoring and follow-up care to ensure the effectiveness of treatment.

Medications and Their Effects


Misoprostol is often used to manage early pregnancy loss and medication-induced abortions. While it is generally effective, some common side effects include nausea (43-66%), vomiting (23-40%), diarrhea (23-35%), headache (13-40%), dizziness (28-39%), and thermoregulatory effects such as fever, warmth, hot flushes, or chills (32-69%). Cramping and bleeding are expected outcomes when using misoprostol, with bleeding lasting an average of nine to 16 days. Still, in some cases, an incomplete abortion may occur, exhibiting signs such as moderate to heavy bleeding, abdominal pain or cramping, and tissue or clots in the vagina.


Mifepristone is another medication often used with misoprostol to promote the completion of an abortion. It is a progesterone antagonist, resulting in the detachment of the gestational sac from the uterine wall. Common side effects may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue, and dizziness. When used with misoprostol, both medications work together to increase the effectiveness of the abortion process.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to relieve cramping and discomfort during a medication-induced abortion. These medications can also help manage the side effects of other drugs, such as misoprostol. Some commonly used NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac. While these drugs can provide relief, it is important to follow dosage recommendations and be aware of potential side effects, such as gastrointestinal issues or potential kidney damage with prolonged use.


Oxytocin is a hormone that can also be used to manage incomplete abortions or retained products of conception. It is primarily used to induce labor, but in cases of incomplete abortion, it can help stimulate uterine contractions to expel remaining tissue. Some potential side effects of oxytocin use include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. However, it is usually administered under the supervision of a healthcare professional to monitor its effects and ensure the safe completion of the abortion process.

Complications and Risks


Incomplete abortion might lead to pelvic infection, which can cause fever, chills, and persistent pain. In severe cases, the infection can spread to other organs and cause multisystem organ failure. Patients need to be monitored and treated promptly to reduce the risk of infection.


Heavy bleeding could be a sign of an incomplete abortion. In cases where bleeding is poorly controlled, the risk of hemorrhage increases. Hemorrhage can lead to other complications, such as anemia, and medical professionals must address the issue to prevent further health risks.


Anemia can develop due to heavy bleeding or hemorrhage following an incomplete abortion. Symptoms of anemia may include fatigue, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat. Patients must receive appropriate care, including iron supplementation or blood transfusions if necessary, to manage anemia and avoid more severe complications.

Undiagnosed Ectopic Pregnancy

Misoprostol might not be effective in undiagnosed ectopic pregnancies, leading to potential complications. Suppose an ectopic pregnancy is suspected or diagnosed after misoprostol use. In that case, additional treatments such as surgery may be required to address the issue and prevent life-threatening complications, including ruptured fallopian tubes and internal bleeding.

Seeking Medical Attention

Consulting a Healthcare Provider

If you notice any signs of incomplete abortion after misoprostol, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. Some of the key symptoms that warrant consultation with a healthcare provider include:

  • Ongoing moderate to heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Presence of tissue or clots in the vagina
  • Pain in the back, buttocks, genitalia, and perineum
  • Fever
  • Filling two or more pads in 1 hour or less, lasting for 2 consecutive hours or more
  • A positive pregnancy test after taking misoprostol
  • Foul-smelling discharge

Consulting a doctor or healthcare provider is essential, as they can assess your condition, provide necessary treatments, and guide you through any required follow-up care.

Hospital Visits

Sometimes, visiting a hospital for further evaluation and treatment may be necessary. Your healthcare provider may recommend a hospital visit if:

  • Your symptoms are severe or worsen after the initial consultation
  • You require additional tests, such as ultrasounds or blood tests, to confirm the abortion status
  • Surgical intervention is needed to complete the abortion or address complications

Remember, prompt medical attention is crucial for your safety and well-being. If you are experiencing any warning signs after misoprostol use, do not hesitate to contact a healthcare provider or visit a hospital for appropriate care.

Legal and Regulatory Aspects

Induced Abortion and Spontaneous Miscarriage

Induced abortion refers to the intentional termination of a pregnancy, while spontaneous miscarriage is the natural loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks of gestation. Both induced abortion and spontaneous miscarriage can involve incomplete abortion, in which all products of conception have not been expelled from the uterus. Incomplete abortion is typically characterized by symptoms such as prolonged bleeding, excessive bleeding, abdominal pain, unbearable pain, fever, or continued bleeding after three weeks.

In the United States, the legal status of abortion varies by state, with some states imposing specific regulations and requirements for abortion providers. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the constitutional right to privacy protects a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the medications used for inducing abortions, such as mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone is a medication that blocks the hormone progesterone, which is necessary for the continuation of pregnancy, while misoprostol is a prostaglandin E1 analogue that causes cervical softening and uterine contractions.

  • The FDA approves mifepristone for use in medication abortion in combination with misoprostol.
  • On the other hand, Misoprostol is approved by the FDA for oral administration to prevent gastric ulcers in individuals who take anti-inflammatory drugs long-term.

Though the FDA does not specifically approve misoprostol for use in abortion, it is included in the FDA-approved labeling of mifepristone for this purpose. This “off-label” use of misoprostol is common in medical practice, and doses of 600 to 800 mcg are considered effective in promoting the completion of abortion, whether used for induced abortions or incomplete spontaneous abortions. However, the management of incomplete abortions should be conducted under the guidance and supervision of a healthcare professional to ensure proper care and prevent complications.

Prevention and Risk Factors

Gestational Age

One of the main risk factors for incomplete abortion after using misoprostol is gestational age. Incomplete abortions after 12 weeks have a 3.4% increased risk of unfavorable outcomes, such as maternal death, major surgery, or sterility. This heightened risk can be attributed to the growth of the fetus, blood supply, and uterine size. Furthermore, after 14 weeks of gestation, there is an even greater risk of maternal death and serious complications.

To minimize such risks, it is essential to initiate misoprostol treatment during early pregnancy, ideally before 12 weeks of gestation. Early intervention can increase the chances of a successful and complete abortion and reduce potential complications.

Clinician Consultation

Another crucial factor in preventing incomplete abortion after misoprostol is clinician consultation. Medical professionals can provide patients with the required guidance and support to ensure proper medication usage.

  • Patients should be informed of the signs and symptoms of incomplete abortion, including persistent vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain.
  • Clinicians should be aware of the possibility of serious infections in patients after medication abortion and remain vigilant for any signs, such as tachycardia, severe abdominal pain, or general malaise with or without fever, that occur more than 24 hours after misoprostol administration.
  • Appropriate dosing and administration routes should be maintained, as vaginal, oral, and sublingual misoprostol in single doses of 600 to 800 mcg are equally effective for promoting completed abortion in patients with an incomplete first-trimester spontaneous abortion.

In conclusion, by considering gestational age and seeking clinician consultation, patients can mitigate the risks and maximize the chances of successful and complete abortion. Awareness of the risk factors and taking precautionary measures contribute to overall prevention and improved outcomes.

Aftercare and Counseling

Follow-up and Monitoring

After a misoprostol-induced abortion, patients must undergo appropriate follow-up and monitoring to assess the outcome and ensure their well-being. Follow-up typically includes an assessment of bleeding, pain, and other symptoms. Monitoring hemoglobin levels can help detect potential complications, such as excessive blood loss or anemia. If heavy bleeding persists, a healthcare provider may recommend additional treatment, such as dilation and curettage (D&C), to remove any remaining fetal tissue.

In some cases, alloimmunization can occur after an abortion, which refers to the development of antibodies against antigens present in the fetal tissue. This may cause complications in future pregnancies. Therefore, patients must get regular check-ups and seek medical care if they experience unusual symptoms post-abortion.

Emotional and Psychological Support

Undergoing an abortion can be emotionally challenging for many individuals. It is essential to provide comprehensive counseling for patients, addressing their emotional and psychological needs before and after the procedure. Counseling should be tailored to each patient’s unique situation, with a focus on the following:

  • Providing accurate information about the abortion process and associated risks
  • Addressing any concerns or fears
  • Offering non-judgmental support and empathy

Healthcare providers should also be prepared to recommend additional resources, such as therapists or support groups, for individuals who require additional emotional assistance. By offering a holistic approach to aftercare and counseling, patients can better navigate their emotional journey and recovery after an abortion.


What are the common signs of an incomplete abortion after taking misoprostol?

Some common signs of an incomplete abortion after taking misoprostol include:

  • Prolonged bleeding
  • Excessive bleeding (much more than a regular menstrual period)
  • Persistent abdominal pain or cramping
  • Abdominal sensitivity when pressure is applied
  • Pain that lasts more than a few days
  • High or prolonged fever

How soon can we identify an incomplete abortion after using misoprostol?

An individual can be on the lookout for signs of an incomplete abortion within a few days to three weeks after taking misoprostol. If the symptoms persist or worsen, they may indicate an incomplete abortion.

What are the complications of an incomplete abortion?

An incomplete abortion can lead to potential complications, including:

  • Infection and sepsis due to retained tissues
  • Heavy or persistent bleeding
  • Damage to the uterus or other organs
  • Emotional distress

What should one do if suspecting an incomplete abortion?

It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible if a person suspects an incomplete abortion. A medical examination and ultrasound might be necessary to assess the situation and determine the appropriate action.

What are the possible treatments for an incomplete abortion?

Some possible treatments for incomplete abortion include:

  • Additional doses of misoprostol or other medication to aid in the expulsion of tissue
  • A surgical procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C) to remove any retained tissue from the uterus
  • Administration of antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Closely monitoring the individual’s vital signs and symptoms to ensure a safe recovery