This medication is used, along with misoprostol (Cytotec) in a two-step process resulting in a medical abortion. It is used for established pregnancies up to 49 days (7 weeks).
The first medication, RU-486, is given orally. Three pills will be given. The medication works by blocking the activity of progesterone, a substance that your body produces to help continue a pregnancy. This causes the placenta to separate from the endometrium (lining of the uterus), and also softens the cervix and causes the uterus to contract to allow the baby to pass through.
You must then return to your doctor within 48 hours to confirm whether or not your pregnancy has ended. If not, you will be given two tablets of another medication, Cytotec, to be taken orally or inserted vaginally. This will cause stronger uterine contractions, so that the baby will be delivered. The clinic may keep you there for up to 4 hours to be observed for any complications, or they may send you home. Some healthcare providers will allow you to take this second medication at home.
Fourteen days later, you must return to your doctor for an exam and/or ultrasound to make sure that your pregnancy has ended. If not, a surgical abortion will be done to complete the process. The medications used can cause major fetal defects, so patients are asked to agree to the surgical abortion before the medical abortion is attempted.
Side effects of this procedure may include cramping, vaginal bleeding, nausea/vomiting, headache, dizziness, weakness, abdominal/pelvic pain, and fainting. If you have heavy bleeding, such as soaking 2 or more maxi pads per hour for 2 hours in a row, or fever of 100.4 or higher, you need to call your doctor immediately.
Complications from this medical abortion procedure greatly increase if these medications are used with a pregnancy that is further along than 7 weeks (49 days), therefore if you decide to undergo this procedure, it is very important that you have the gestational age of your baby determined accurately. You also need to confirm that your pregnancy is in your uterus, and not in your fallopian tube (ectopic).
The medications given will not abort this type of pregnancy, but you may mistake pain and bleeding as side effects of the medication. There is a serious danger of complications to you and your reproductive organs if you ignore these warning signs of an ectopic pregnancy. To avoid both of these uncertain situations, an ultrasound should be considered before any medication is taken.