Miscarriage is a pregnancy that ends spontaneously before 20 weeks. After the 20th week of pregnancy the loss of a fetus is called a stillbirth.
Miscarriage is very common. In fact, it has been estimated that up to half of all pregnancies end in an early miscarriage that occurs before the first period would have been missed, when most women do not yet know they are pregnant. Of pregnancies that make it past this point, up to 15 per cent result in a miscarriage, mostly during the first trimester. Sometimes your doctor or nurses may refer to your miscarriage as a spontaneous abortion. Abortion is the common medical name for all pregnancies that end before 20 weeks — both miscarriages and terminations.
Most miscarriages occur because something went wrong during or soon after conception. There are thought to be many reasons behind this. Here is a list of some reasons.
Symptoms differ depending on how advanced the pregnancy was and what caused the miscarriage. Threatened miscarriage may be experienced days or even weeks before you lose the baby, however, a threatened miscarriage does not always end in miscarriage. At this stage you may experience any of the following symptoms:
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. In many of these cases the symptoms settle down and the pregnancy continues as normal.
In miscarriage the cervix opens, and part or all of the contents of the uterus come away and pass out of the vagina. There are several common signs of miscarriage.
An incomplete miscarriage occurs when some pregnancy tissue remains inside the uterus. You may need to have a dilatation and curettage (D & C) or vacuum aspiration operation after an incomplete miscarriage due to the risk of infection developing from tissue remaining in your uterus. For this you will usually be given a general anaesthetic, your cervix opened and uterus completely emptied. Once the uterus is empty again the miscarriage is complete. The cervix closes, pain stops and bleeding slows down.
An ectopic pregnancy is one in which the fetus is growing in the wrong place, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. As the fetus gets bigger, it may cause the fallopian tube to stretch, bleed or rupture. This can cause massive bleeding and infertility, and can be life-threatening. These problems typically occur when the pregnancy is 6 to 7 weeks along, but can occur anywhere from 4 to 10 weeks.
If your doctor is at all suspicious of an ectopic they will either admit you to hospital or organise special tests such as an ultrasound and blood tests measuring the amount of the pregnancy hormone beta HCG in your body.
Contact your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms as your life may be in danger and you may need an urgent operation:
Last Reviewed: 08 July 2009