Background: Misoprostol is commonly used to induce abortion in Brazil, and in other countries in South and Central America where abortions are illegal. However, misoprostol is not very effective in inducing abortions, and exposure to the drug in utero can cause abnormalities in the fetus. We aimed to define the common phenotypical effects of exposure to the drug.
Methods: We studied 42 infants from São Paulo, Brazil, who were exposed to misoprostol during the first 3 months of gestation, and then born with congenital abnormalities. We interviewed each of the infants' mothers to find out about misoprostol exposure and dosage. Each infant was physically examined by a geneticist or a neuropaediatrician.
Findings: 17 of the infants had equinovarus with cranial-nerve defects. Ten children had equinovarus as part of more extensive arthrogryposis. The most distinctive phenotypes were arthrogryposis confined to the legs (five cases) and terminal transverse-limb defects (nine cases) with or without Mobius sequence. The most common dose of misoprostol taken was 800 microg (range 200-16000 microg).
Interpretation: Deformities attributed to vascular disruption were found in these children. We suggest that the uterine contractions induced by misoprostol cause vascular disruption in the fetus, including brain-stem ischaemia. Information on the effects of taking misoprostol during pregnancy should be made more widely available, to dissuade women from misusing the drug.
PIP: In Brazil and other South and Central American countries where abortion is illegal, misoprostol is widely available and commonly used to induce abortion. However, misoprostol is not very effective as an abortifacient agent and can cause fetal abnormalities. The present study reviewed the cases of 42 infants from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who were exposed to misoprostol during the first trimester of pregnancy and then born with a congenital abnormality. 17 children had equinovarus with cranial nerve deficiencies and 10 had equinovarus as part of a more extensive arthrogryposis. The most distinctive phenotypes were arthrogryposis confined to the legs (5 cases) and terminal transverse limb defects (9 cases). Congenital hydrocephalus was present in 8 children. The most commonly taken dose of misoprostol was 800 mcg (range, 200-16,000 mcg). Greater awareness of the widespread use of misoprostol to induce abortion should lead to public health interventions to prevent teratogenic effects.