Miscarriage occurs in 10% to 15% of pregnancies. The traditional treatment, after miscarriage, has been to perform surgery to remove any remaining placental tissues in the uterus ('evacuation of uterus'). However, medical treatments, or expectant care (no treatment), may also be effective, safe and acceptable.
To assess the effectiveness, safety and acceptability of any medical treatment for incomplete miscarriage (before 24 weeks).
We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (30 November 2012) and reference lists of retrieved papers.
Randomised controlled trials comparing medical treatment with expectant care or surgery or alternative methods of medical treatment. Quasi-randomised trials were excluded.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors independently assessed the studies for inclusion, assessed risk of bias and carried out data extraction. Data entry was checked.
Twenty studies (4208 women) were included. There were no trials specifically of miscarriage treatment after 13 weeks' gestation.
Three trials involving 335 women compared misoprostol treatment (all vaginally administered) with expectant care. There was no statistically significant difference in complete miscarriage (average risk ratio (RR) 1.23, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.72 to 2.10; two studies, 150 women, random-effects), or in the need for surgical evacuation (average RR 0.62, 95% CI 0.17 to 2.26; two studies, 308 women, random-effects). There were few data on ‘deaths or serious complications’.
Twelve studies involving 2894 women addressed the comparison of misoprostol (six studies used oral administration, four studies used vaginal, one study sub-lingual, one study combined vaginal + oral) with surgical evacuation. There was a slightly lower incidence of complete miscarriage with misoprostol (average RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.95 to 0.99, 11 studies, 2493 women, random-effects) but with success rate high for both methods. Overall, there were fewer surgical evacuations with misoprostol (average RR 0.06, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.13; 11 studies, 2654 women, random-effects) but more unplanned procedures (average RR 5.82, 95% CI 2.93 to 11.56; nine studies, 2274 women, random-effects). There were few data on ‘deaths or serious complications’. Nausea was more common with misoprostol (average RR 2.41, 95% CI 1.44 to 4.03; nine studies, 2179 women, random-effects).
Five trials compared different routes of administration and/or doses of misoprostol. There was no clear evidence of one regimen being superior to another.
Limited evidence suggests that women generally seem satisfied with their care. Long-term follow-up from one included study identified no difference in subsequent fertility between the three approaches.
The available evidence suggests that medical treatment, with misoprostol, and expectant care are both acceptable alternatives to routine surgical evacuation given the availability of health service resources to support all three approaches. Women experiencing miscarriage at less than 13 weeks should be offered an informed choice. Future studies should include long-term follow-up.