Miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week. About 10 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.
Miscarriage is a somewhat loaded term — possibly suggesting that something was amiss in the carrying of the pregnancy. This is rarely true. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing normally. However, because these abnormalities are rarely understood, it's often difficult to determine what causes them.
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 of a miscarriage might include:
If you have passed fetal tissue from your vagina, place it in a clean container and bring it to your health care provider's office or the hospital for analysis.
Keep in mind that most women who experience vaginal spotting or bleeding in the first trimester go on to have successful pregnancies.
Abnormal genes or chromosomes
Examples of abnormalities include:
Maternal 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
If you have signs or symptoms of miscarriage, contact your health care provider right away. Depending on the circumstances, you might need immediate medical care.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your health care provider.
What you can do
Below are some basic questions to ask your health care provider about miscarriage:
In addition to the questions you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment — especially if you need clarification or 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
Lifestyle and home remedies
Expect your period to return within four to six weeks. You can start using any type of contraception immediately after a miscarriage. However, avoid having sex or putting anything in your vagina — such as a tampon — for two weeks after a miscarriage.
Keep in mind that miscarriage is usually a one-time occurrence. Most women who miscarry go on to have a healthy pregnancy after miscarriage. Less than 5 percent of women have two consecutive miscarriages, and only 1 percent have three or more consecutive miscarriages.
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 health care provider might suggest testing after two consecutive losses. If the cause of your miscarriages can't be identified, don't lose hope. About 60 to 70 percent of women with unexplained repeated miscarriages go on to have healthy pregnancies.
Coping and support
Emotional healing can take much longer than physical healing. Miscarriage can be a heart-wrenching loss that others around you might not fully understand. Your emotions might range from anger and guilt to despair. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your pregnancy, and seek help from loved ones.
You'll likely never forget your hopes and dreams surrounding this pregnancy, but in time acceptance might ease your pain. Talk to your health care provider if you're feeling profound sadness or depression.
Often, 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: 2013-07-09
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