What is misoprostol?
Prostaglandins are chemicals produced by almost all cells and released into tissues all around the body. There are many different types of prostaglandin, with different actions on the body depending on where they are produced. They act like hormones to control or affect a diverse range of bodily processes, such as the relaxing and contracting of blood vessels, airways and other smooth muscle, regulating other hormones and chemicals, causing pain, inflammation, and fever, reducing stomach acid and increasing mucus production.
Modern medicine takes advantage of these different actions. For example, aspirin works by blocking the production of certain prostaglandins, giving aspirin its anti-inflammatory and painkilling effects, as well as some of its side effects.
Misoprostol is a man-made prostaglandin that closely mimics one specific type of these naturally-produced chemicals. The same prostaglandin can have different effects depending on where in the body it is produced. This means misoprostol has several different actions on the body and so can be used for different medical purposes.
Drug manufacturers license their medicines for specific medical purposes. Misoprostol tablets (Cytotec®) are licensed to help heal or prevent stomach ulcers, which are essentially holes in the stomach lining. Misoprostol increases the amount of protective mucus produced by the stomach lining and also decreases the amount of stomach acid produced. This creates an environment that prevents further damage to the stomach lining and allows existing ulcers to heal. It is most often used to prevent ulcers in people who need to use anti-inflammatory painkillers for long periods.
Read on to find out about misoprostol side effects.