The most common use of mifepristone is as an abortifacient to end early pregnancies, and it is often known as RU 486. It is also sometimes used to induce labor or treat brain tumors, endometriosis, or fibroids. In most cases, this medication must be taken under the supervision of a doctor since serious complications have been known to occur, such as severe bleeding, infections, and even death. It is typically offered in tablet form, and patients usually have to take several of them in order for treatment to be considered complete.
The majority of patients taking mifepristone intend to end a very early pregnancy, as this medication is typically effective up to 49 days following the first day of the last period, or by the seventh week of pregnancy. It works by ensuring that the body does not produce progesterone, which is a hormone that is crucial for a healthy pregnancy. Unlike the typical oral contraceptive, it ends an existing pregnancy rather than preventing one altogether, as it is a type of emergency contraceptive. It is usually administered in combination with misoprostol when ending a pregnancy, and is typically only given while monitored by a doctor at a clinic or hospital. Though it may be effective at ending pregnancies past the seventh week, as well, it is not recommended for ectopic pregnancies since it can cause serious bleeding.
A less common use of mifepristone is to induce labor at the end of pregnancy. It can also treat benign tumors in the uterus, which are known as uterine fibroids, and it may also be given to patients with brain tumors. Additionally, it can treat endometriosis, which occurs when uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus. Of course, it is relatively unknown as treatment for any of these issues since its primary purpose is as an emergency contraceptive.
During the first appointment with a doctor, the patient can expect to take three mifepristone tablets, and then return two days later to make sure that the pregnancy is over. If not, the doctor may require the patient to take two tablets of misoprostol. Most patients need to report back to their doctor about two weeks after treatment to ensure that the medication has been effective. In some cases, the pregnancy is still there, in which case surgery may be necessary to remove it.
There are severe side effects associated with mifepristone, which is mainly why patients are monitored so closely. Weeks of vaginal bleeding, severe cramping, pain in the pelvis, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety can be expected, though these side effects should be mentioned to a doctor. Some patients develop an infection after taking mifepristone, with symptoms such as a high grade fever, chills, fast heart rate, pain below the waist, and fainting. These symptoms are cause for emergency medical treatment, as is bleeding that is so heavy that it soaks two sanitary pads per hour.