Preparing the cervix with nitric oxide donors before surgical abortion in the first three months of pregnancy

Possible complications of surgical abortion in the first three months of pregnancy include injury to the cervix (the neck of the womb) and the womb itself. Preparing the cervix before surgery might make the procedure safer and easier. Several methods are used to prepare the cervix. This review compared drugs known as nitric oxide (NO) donors with other drugs.

We did a computer search for randomised trials of NO donors used before surgical abortion. We found that NO donors are better than placebo (a sugar pill). Prostaglandins are better than NO donors for preparing the cervix.

Authors' conclusions: 

NO donors are superior to placebo or no treatment, but inferior to prostaglandins for first-trimester cervical ripening, and associated with more side effects.

Read the full abstract...

Cervical priming before first-trimester surgical abortion is recommended in certain groups of women. Nitric oxide (NO) donors induce cervical ripening without uterine contractions, but the efficacy and side effects are of concern.


To evaluate NO donors for cervical ripening before first-trimester surgical abortion, in terms of efficacy, side effects, and reduction of complications.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, and POPLINE. We also searched reference lists of retrieved papers. We contacted experts in the field for information on both published and unpublished trials.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials comparing NO donors alone or in combination with other methods for cervical ripening in first-trimester surgical abortion.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently selected and extracted the data onto a data extraction form. We processed the data using Review Manager (RevMan 5) software.

Main results: 

We included 9 studies involving 766 participants. There were no serious complications (infection requiring antibiotic treatment, blood transfusion, complications requiring unintended operation, cervical injury, uterine perforation, death or serious morbidity) in the included trials.

NO donors were more effective in cervical ripening when compared with placebo or no treatment. Baseline cervical dilatation before the procedure was higher in NO donors group (mean difference (MD) 0.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.01 to 0.58) The cumulative force required to dilate the cervix to 8 mm (MD -4.29, 95% CI -9.92 to 1.35), headache (risk ratio (RR) 1.73, 95% CI 0.86 to 3.46), abdominal pain (RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.50 to 1.50), or patient satisfaction (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.07) were not different. More nausea and vomiting occurred in the women who received a NO donor (RR 2.62, 95% CI 1.07 to 6.45).

NO donors were inferior to prostaglandins for cervical ripening. The cumulative force required to dilate the cervix to 8 mm to 9 mm was higher (MD 13.12, 95% CI 9.72 to 16.52), and baseline cervical dilatation was less (MD -0.73, 95% CI -1.01 to -0.45) in the NO donor group. However, the probability of dilation greater than 8 mm at three hours was higher in the NO donor group (RR 6.67, 95% CI 2.21 to 20.09). Side effects including headache (RR 5.13, 95% CI 3.29 to 8.00), palpitation (RR 3.43, 95% CI 1.64 to 7.15), dizziness (RR 3.29, 95% CI 1.46 to 7.41), and intraoperative blood loss (MD 33.59 ml, 95% CI 24.50 to 42.67) were also higher. However, abdominal pain (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.44) and vaginal bleeding (RR 0.14, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.27) were less in the NO donor group. No difference for nausea/vomiting in both groups(RR 1.17, 95% CI 0.94 to 1.46). Patient satisfaction was not different.

One trial compared a NO donor with a NO donor plus prostaglandin. The cumulative force required to dilate the cervix to 8 mm was higher (MD 14.50, 95% CI 0.50 to 28.50) in the NO donor group. There was no difference in headache (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.38 to 2.00), abdominal pain (RR 0.14, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.07), or intraoperative blood loss (MD -50, 95% CI -164.19 to 64.19).