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Int J Epidemiol. 1998 Oct;27(5):833-9.

Determinants of abortion among women admitted to hospitals in Fortaleza, North Eastern Brazil.

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Maternal and Child Epidemiology Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK.



Maternal mortality from complications of unsafe abortion constitutes a serious problem in several developing countries. There is, however, a paucity of well-designed and implemented studies in this area, especially in Latin America. The aim of this paper is to present the findings on the determinants and medical characteristics of abortions among women admitted to hospitals.


A descriptive cross-sectional hospital-based study was carried out between October 1992 and September 1993 in Fortaleza, Brazil. A Cox's proportional hazard model was used to estimate prevalence rate ratios after adjustment for confounding.


Among 2074 (48%) women who admitted to terminating the pregnancy, 66% reported using misoprostol to induce abortion. Women with an induced abortion as compared with those with an unlikely induced abortion are younger, more often not married, have fewer children alive and experienced one or more previous induced abortions. We have not found any important differences with regard to complication or duration of stay in hospital.


This finding, at odds with most previous studies, could reflect the special situation in Brazil where misoprostol is used for illegally-induced abortion. The use of misoprostol by this population may have contributed to the reduction of severe complications related to induced abortion which were most prevalent with more invasive methods. Recommendations are made as to the need for confirmatory studies as well as on information regarding cultural perceptions and concepts of abortion, and reasons why poor women fail to adopt available family planning methods.


The characteristics of induced abortion were investigated among women admitted to two public maternity hospitals in Fortaleza, Brazil, in 1992-93. A total of 4359 women admitted to the hospitals during the 12-month study period with a diagnosis of pregnancy loss were interviewed. 48% of abortions were classified as certainly induced, 40% as possibly induced, and 12% as spontaneous. 1369 (66%) of the 2074 women with certainly induced abortion reported use of misoprostol (mean dose, 400 mcg; range, 200-2400 mcg). Although sales of this abortifacient were suspended in 1991 due to concerns about congenital malformations in unsuccessful procedures, the drug remains widely available on the black market. Compared with women with an unlikely induced abortion, women with a certainly induced abortion were significantly younger, more often unmarried, had fewer living children, and were more likely to have experienced one or more previous induced abortions. The risk of infection was increased by 40% in women with certain induced abortion above that of women with unlikely induced abortion. There were no significant differences between groups in terms of the complication rate or duration of hospital stay. The use of misoprostol in this series may have contributed to the relatively low rate of severe abortion-related complications. Wider availability of emergency contraception could reduce the need for unsafe abortion in Brazil.

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