Although it is distressing to experience the spontaneous ending of a pregnancy, miscarriage is a fairly common event. In most cases, miscarriages occur so early that the woman has not yet realized she was pregnant, and so the miscarriage simply goes unnoticed. Scientists estimate that up to half of all pregnancies spontaneously end in this way, and 10 to 20 percent of women who receive a positive pregnancy test will subsequently lose the pregnancy in a miscarriage. This basic overview of miscarriage will help you understand the nature of this common but emotionally difficult physical event.
What exactly is a miscarriage?
The medical term for miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion,” because the word “abortion” refers to the ending of a pregnancy even when that ending is caused by a natural physiological process. Any pregnancy that spontaneously ends during the first 20 weeks is a miscarriage. (A pregnancy that ends after 20 weeks is termed a “still birth.”) The great majority of miscarriages occur within the first trimester.
What causes miscarriage?
Most miscarriages are the result of random genetic abnormalities in the embryo, and there is no way to prevent those natural occurrences. Some risk factors for miscarriage are the result of maternal health issues, however. These include chronic conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disease, and the age of both mother and father at the time of conception. Structural difficulties with the cervix or uterus can create added risk, as can weight extremes (being very underweight or overweight). Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco or recreational drugs also lead to higher rates of miscarriage, and certain invasive prenatal tests carry a slight risk.
How do I know if I’m having a miscarriage?
The classic symptom of impending miscarriage is vaginal bleeding while pregnant. Although most women who experience some vaginal spotting will go on to successfully complete their pregnancies, it is important to report any bleeding during pregnancy to your physician or midwife. While pregnant, you should seek immediate medical care if you are bleeding heavily, experiencing menstrual-like cramps, or are feeling dizzy or feverish.
What kind of treatment is given for miscarriage?
Your doctor will conduct ultrasound and other diagnostic tests to determine whether there is a chance that your pregnancy can continue. In some cases, you may be simply encouraged to go home and get some extra rest. If it is impossible to reverse the natural course of events and save the pregnancy, you may be given medication to bring about a menstrual-like period to help your uterus expel the blood and tissue. Many women and physicians prefer the procedure known as a “D & C” (dilation and curettage) in which instruments are introduced through your vagina to clean your uterus of its contents. This is a low-risk outpatient procedure.
Miscarriages are a common occurrence, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult emotionally. Contact your New York fertility clinic to learn more about the natural processes of pregnancy.