Authored by JoannaRasmuson

Placental Abruption: What Is it, Why Does it Occur and How Can You Treat It?

May 28, 2019 | OB/GYN

Placental abruption occurs when the uterine lining separates from the placenta. It typically occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy though it can occur as soon as 20 weeks. Approximately one in 100 women will experience a placental abruption during pregnancy.

The term “placental abruption” can be a serious condition, but depending on the severity of the separation and with appropriate treatment, women can go to term successfully. Severe placental abruption, however, may result in premature birth, growth problems with the baby or even stillbirth. Because some cases can be severe, it is essential you recognize the symptoms and receive treatment as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Placental Abruption

The most obvious sign of placental abruption is vaginal bleeding. Because you should not be bleeding during pregnancy—at least, not any more than mild spotting—it should serve as a red flag that something may be wrong. However, 20 percent of cases will have no bleeding, so doctors urge women to look for the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Uterine tenderness
  • Rapid contractions
  • Fetal heart rate abnormalities

If you notice any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Even if placental abruption is not a concern, you may have placenta previa or some other condition that needs immediate attention.

Causes of Placental Abruption

Unfortunately, medical providers are unclear as to the cause of placental abruption. However, healthcare professionals have identified risk factors for the condition:

  • Smoking
  • Using cocaine during pregnancy
  • Being over the age of 35
  • Being pregnant with more than one fetus
  • Having hypertension or preeclampsia
  • Experiencing trauma to the abdomen while pregnant
  • Having abnormalities in the uterus

If you have any of the above risk factors, discuss the possibility of placental abruption with your doctor.

Diagnosing Placental Abruption

Unfortunately, a true diagnosis of placental abruption can only be made after birth, but doctors can detect the condition using several methods:

  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound
  • Fetal monitoring
  • Evaluation of the patient’s symptoms

Treating Placental Abruption

If your doctor determines your uterine lining has separated from the placenta, he or she will then try to determine the severity of the separation. Some women experience a partial separation while others experience a complete separation. In the case of partial separation, bed rest and close monitoring may be all that is necessary to carry the pregnancy to term. However, if your uterine wall has completely separated, your doctor may either induce labor or order a cesarean section. The doctor will only order a C-section if the baby is distressed or you are experiencing severe bleeding. Unfortunately, there is no way to reattach the uterine lining to the wall of the placenta or to stop the separation from occurring.

When To Call Your Doctor

Your OB/GYN should inform you to contact him or her if you notice anything amiss during your pregnancy. “Amiss” can mean anything as mild as not feeling your baby move for more than three hours to something as alarming as contractions at your 20th week. Bleeding during pregnancy is also a cause for concern. If you experience bleeding anytime beyond your 20th week, call your provider immediately. If you experience any other symptoms of placental abruption, even if it’s slight abdominal pain, schedule an appointment with your doctor.


Obstetricians/gynecologists at Revere Health OB/GYN provide a full range of healthcare services to women throughout all stages of their lives including; puberty, child-bearing years, menopause.


“Placental Abruption.” American Pregnancy Association.


“Placental Abruption” March of Dimes.




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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.