Miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week. About 15 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. But the actual number is probably much higher because many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy that a woman doesn't even know she's pregnant. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing normally.
Miscarriage is a relatively common experience — but that doesn't make it any easier. Take a step toward emotional healing by understanding what can cause a miscarriage, what increases the risk and what medical care might be needed.
Most miscarriages occur before the 12th week of pregnancy. Signs and symptoms include:
In most cases, women who experience light bleeding in the first trimester go on to have successful pregnancies. Sometimes even heavier bleeding doesn't result in miscarriage.
When to see a doctor
You may bring any tissue that is passed into your doctor's office in a clean container. It's unlikely that any testing would define a cause, but confirming the passage of placental tissue helps your doctor determine that your symptoms aren't related to a tubal (ectopic) pregnancy.
Abnormal genes or chromosomes
A mother's health conditions
What does NOT cause miscarriage
Various factors increase the risk of miscarriage, including:
Some women who miscarry develop a uterine infection, also called a septic miscarriage. Signs and symptoms of this infection include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by talking with your obstetrics care provider. He or she will tell you whom you need to see and when. In some circumstances, you may be instructed to go to a hospital emergency room immediately. If you haven't yet seen an obstetrics doctor, make an appointment with one in the next 24 hours or go to an emergency room.
You'll likely need to see your doctor fairly quickly. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For miscarriage, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor may do a variety of tests:
Possible diagnoses include:
Treatments and drugs
If you're having a threatened miscarriage, your doctor may recommend resting until the bleeding or pain subsides. You may be asked to avoid exercise and sex as well. Although these steps haven't been proved to reduce the risk of miscarriage, they may reduce bleeding and improve your comfort.
It's also a good idea to avoid traveling — especially to areas where it would be difficult to receive prompt medical care.
With ultrasound, it is now much easier to determine whether the embryo has died or was never formed. Either finding means that a miscarriage will definitely occur. In this situation there are several choices to consider:
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you experience multiple miscarriages, generally more than three in a row, consider testing to identify any underlying causes - such as uterine abnormalities, coagulation problems or chromosomal abnormalities. In some cases your doctor may suggest testing after two consecutive losses, but two losses are still often due to chance and not to an underlying medical cause. If the cause of your miscarriages can't be identified, don't lose hope. Even without treatment, about 70 percent of women with repeated miscarriages go on to have successful pregnancies.
Coping and support
Emotional healing may take much longer than physical healing. Miscarriage can be a heart-wrenching loss that others around you may not fully understand. Your emotions may range from anger to despair. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your pregnancy, and seek help from those who love you. Keeping the loss to yourself isn't necessary.
You'll likely never forget your hopes and dreams surrounding this pregnancy, but in time acceptance may ease your pain. Talk to your doctor if you're feeling profound sadness or depression.
In the vast majority of cases, there's nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage. Simply focus on taking good care of yourself and your baby. Seek regular prenatal care, and avoid known risk factors — such as smoking and drinking alcohol. If you have a chronic condition, work with your health care team to keep it under control.
Last Updated: 2010-10-23
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