Miscarriage, also referred to as early pregnancy loss, or spontaneous abortion, is the loss of a fetus during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. It is a fairly common, naturally occurring phenomenon and happens in approximately 10% of known pregnancies.
Causes: About one half of miscarriages are caused by a random event in which the embryo does not contain a normal amount of chromosomes. This causes the embryo to fail to develop properly, resulting in miscarriage. Other causes for miscarriage are less certain. Injury to the mother, smoking and drinking while pregnant, low hormone levels, and a condition in which the embryo fails to attach to the wall of the uterus can all contribute to early pregnancy loss, and advanced maternal age increases your likelihood of suffering a miscarriage.
Symptoms: The most common symptoms of miscarriage are:
- Bleeding or spotting
- Sudden loss of pregnancy symptoms
- Tissue passing from the vagina
If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor. You will likely be given an exam to determine whether or not you are experiencing a miscarriage.
Treatment: Some miscarriages do not require any medical treatment. In this case you can expect to experience heavy bleeding for several days until the uterus is completely emptied. You may feel weak, crampy and unwell during this time, and in the days following, but otherwise will not need any medical intervention. If some of the embryo remains in the uterus, you may need a minor medical procedure called a D&C.
A D&C, also known as dilation and curettage, is a surgical procedure often performed after a first-trimester miscarriage. In a D&C, dilation refers to opening the cervix; curettage refers to removing the contents of the uterus. Curettage may be performed by scraping the uterine wall with a curette instrument or by a suction curettage (also called vacuum aspiration).
Prognosis: Miscarriage is a common, natural occurrence and most women go on to conceive healthy pregnancies following miscarriage. If you experience multiple miscarriages, you may be referred to a specialist for genetic testing.