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June 21, 2016 | OB/GYN
Approximately 10% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, with thousands more women miscarrying before they ever realize they were pregnant, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Unfortunately, many women do not know about miscarriage until they experience one. Understanding the risk factors for miscarriage can help you through this difficult process.
Miscarriage occurs when a pregnancy is lost in its early stages (e.g., before 20 weeks). During a miscarriage, the body no longer can support the growing fetus and expels the fetal tissue from the body. In some cases, women experience abdominal cramping, which is the uterus contracting to release the fetal tissue. This may be accompanied by visible clots or tissue being passed vaginally. In other cases, the fetus dies but the tissue is not passed. In these situations, a medical procedure may be necessary to evacuate the uterus of remaining fetal tissue.
The most common symptoms of miscarriage are abdominal cramping and vaginal bleeding. In some cases, you may feel pain or cramps in your lower back. Some women who miscarry experience fluid or tissue passing from the vagina. If possible, place any fetal tissue passed from the vagina into a clean container. Bring the tissue to your OB/GYN for analysis, which can help to determine the cause of miscarriage.
Some women experience severe pain, often on one side of the abdomen. This may be a sign of ectopic pregnancy, which warrants emergency treatment. Following a miscarriage, it is possible to develop a uterine infection. Talk to your doctor if you experience fever, chills or abnormal vaginal discharge after a miscarriage.
There are many possible causes for a miscarriage. In many cases, a woman may never know exactly what caused the pregnancy loss. The majority of miscarriages occur during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Approximately half of these cases are caused by chromosomal abnormalities; in these cases, development does not proceed normally and triggers a miscarriage. Other potential causes include:
Problems with placenta development
Food poisoning, such as toxoplasmosis or listeria
Taking certain medications
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Chronic health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, lupus, kidney disease or thyroid problems
The physical healing from a miscarriage is usually fairly straightforward, barring any unforeseen complications. However, the emotional healing process often takes longer. Anger, despair, guilt or denial are common emotional reactions. Allowing yourself to experience these complex emotions is essential to help yourself recover. Some women find comfort in sharing their experience with others or doing something to commemorate the loss. While feeling sad or down following a miscarriage is a normal emotional reaction, talk to your doctor if you feel deeply depressed after a few months.
Following a miscarriage, it is important to consult with your OB/GYN to manage your risk of having another pregnancy loss. Finding a doctor who listens to your concerns and sets you at ease is invaluable. It is important to note that having sex, working outside the home, moderate levels of exercise, or using birth control pills before you were pregnant are not known to cause miscarriage. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it is likely fine for you to continue these activities when trying to conceive or during the early stages of pregnancy.
In many cases, there is nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage. If you have chronic health problems that may have contributed to your pregnancy loss, it is important to work with your doctor to manage these conditions. When you do become pregnant again, seek regular prenatal care with your physician to manage any ongoing risks. Also remember to avoid smoking or drinking alcohol, which can increase your risk of a future miscarriage.
If you are worried that you are having a miscarriage, contact your OB/GYN immediately. Your doctor can help you navigate the aftermath of having a miscarriage and make recommendations that may help you get pregnant again. Remember that you are not alone in this process; your doctor is here to help you weather these challenges.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.