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A miscarriage is the loss of a fetus during pregnancy. It's also an event that's more common than you think. Learn about causes, types, symptom...

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What Is a Miscarriage?

Miscarriage is an event that results in the loss of a fetus during early pregnancy. Also called spontaneous abortion (SAB), this typically occurs during the first half of pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), 10 to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. (APA, 2011)

The cause of miscarriage varies from person to person, and in many cases, the cause is unknown. It is important for all pregnant women to know the facts about this condition so that they can better recognize the signs and risk factors associated with miscarriage.

Types of Miscarriage

Miscarriage is a broad term to explain the loss of a growing fetus. However, there are different types depending on the cause and stage of your pregnancy. Your doctor will classify your condition as a:

  • blighted ovum (a fertilized egg implants into the uterine wall, but fetal development never begins)
  • complete miscarriage (where the products of conception are expelled from the body)
  • ectopic miscarriage (egg implants in places other than the uterus, most often the fallopian tubes)
  • incomplete miscarriage (rupture of the membranes with dilation or thinning of the cervix)
  • missed miscarriage (the embryo dies without your knowledge, and does not deliver)
  • recurrent miscarriage (the third or more consecutive, 1st trimester miscarriages)
  • threatened miscarriage (where bleeding and cramps point to a possible upcoming SAB)

Causes of Miscarriage

For a pregnancy to succeed, the mother’s body must supply the right amount of hormones and nutrients to the baby, and the fetus must develop correctly throughout the entire pregnancy. If either of these conditions is not met, then the pregnancy might end early.

There are a variety of causes of miscarriage. Common causes may include:

  • chromosomal problems
  • unhealthy lifestyle (obesity, drug and alcohol use)
  • maternal age
  • trauma
  • untreated thyroid disease
  • diabetes
  • infections

Symptoms of a Miscarriage

The symptoms of a miscarriage vary depending on the stage of pregnancy you’re in. For example, in a missed miscarriage, the event happens so suddenly that you may not have known you were pregnant in the first place.

Here are some of the warning signs of a miscarriage:

  • mild/severe back pain
  • heavy spotting
  • vaginal bleeding
  • expulsion of tissue with clots from the vagina
  • severe abdominal pain
  • cramps

It is important to call your doctor right away if you experience any one or more of these symptoms.

Risk Factors

Most miscarriages are due to natural, largely unpreventable causes. However, there are certain risk factors that can potentially increase your chances of an SAB. These include:

  • being over 35 years old
  • bodily trauma
  • drug use
  • radiation exposure
  • alcohol abuse
  • excessive caffeine consumption
  • smoking
  • previous miscarriage - according to the APA, women who have had a previous miscarriage have a 25 percent chance of future miscarriage. (APA, 2011)

Long-Term Outlook

There is a misconception that a miscarriage will define your ability to get pregnant in the future. According to the Mayo Clinic, up to five percent of pregnant women have two consecutive SABs, while one percent experience three or more in a row. (Mayo Clinic, 2010)

Most women have successful pregnancies despite having an SAB. Miscarriage is a traumatic event, but this should not discourage women from conceiving again in the future.

Preventing Miscarriages

It is important that you have a conception plan after an SAB and before you attempt another pregnancy. Being prepared for a future pregnancy by ensuring your body is in optimal health can decrease the likelihood that you will have another miscarriage. Your doctor will likely recommend tests to detect any problems that may have caused your previous miscarriage. These may include:

  • blood tests to detect hormone imbalances
  • chromosome tests (done through blood and/or tissue samples)
  • pelvic and uterine exams
  • ultrasounds

Depending on your overall health, your doctor might recommend that you wait several months before getting pregnant again. Periodic testing throughout your pregnancy may also be required.

If this is your first pregnancy, your general health should be a priority to help prevent miscarriage. Avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and limit the amount of caffeine you drink. Prenatal vitamins can help support even the healthiest of diets to ensure that you and your baby get all of the nutrients needed. Light regular exercise can also improve fetal health, but don’t begin a new regimen without consulting with a doctor first.

Support Following a Miscarriage

Miscarriage is traumatic, and there are a wide range of emotions to deal with. Grief counselors can help you cope with any feelings you may have of guilt, loss, or depression. It is important to remember that most miscarriages are out of your control. Reach out to others for support. Depression is a potential and serious consequence of miscarriage that can worsen without treatment.

Written by: Kristeen Moore and Jacquelyn Cafasso
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
Published: Jul 11, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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