What is a miscarriage?
A miscarriage or spontaneous abortion is an event that results in the loss of a fetus before 20 weeks of pregnancy. It typically happens during the first trimester, or first three months, of the pregnancy.
Miscarriages can happen for a variety of medical reasons, many of which aren’t within a person’s control. But knowing the risk factors, signs, and causes can help you to better understand the event and get any support or treatment you may need.
The symptoms of a miscarriage vary, depending on your stage of pregnancy. In some cases, it happens so quickly that you may not even know you’re pregnant before you miscarry.
Here are some of the symptoms of a miscarriage:
- heavy spotting
- vaginal bleeding
- discharge of tissue or fluid from your vagina
- severe abdominal pain or cramping
- mild to severe back pain
Call your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms during your pregnancy. It’s also possible to have these symptoms without experiencing a miscarriage. But your doctor will want to conduct tests to make sure that everything is fine.
While there are some things that increase the risk of miscarriage, generally it isn’t a result of something that you did or didn’t do. If you’re having difficulty maintaining pregnancy, your doctor may check for some known causes of miscarriage.
During pregnancy, your body supplies hormones and nutrients to your developing fetus. This helps your fetus grow. Most first trimester miscarriages happen because the fetus doesn’t develop normally. There are different factors that can cause this.
Genetic or chromosome issues
Chromosomes hold genes. In a developing fetus, half set of chromosomes is contributed by the mother and another by the father.
Examples of these chromosome abnormalities include:
Intrauterine fetal demise: The embryo forms but stops developing before you see or feel symptoms of pregnancy loss.
Blighted ovum: No embryo forms at all.
Molar pregnancy: Both sets of chromosomes come from the father, no fetal development occurs.
Partial molar pregnancy: The mother’s chromosomes remain, but the father has also provided two sets of chromosomes.
Errors can also occur randomly when the cells of the embryo divide, or due to a damaged egg or sperm cell. Problems with the placenta can also lead to a miscarriage.
Most miscarriages are due to natural and unpreventable causes. However, certain risk factors can increase your chances of having a miscarriage. These include: body trauma, exposure to harmful chemicals or radiation, drug use, alcohol abuse, excessive caffeine consumption, smoking, two or more consecutive miscarriages, being underweight or overweight, chronic, uncontrolled conditions, like diabetes, problems with the uterus or cervix
Being older can also affect your risk for miscarriage. Women who are over 35 years old have a higher risk of miscarriage than women who are younger. This risk only increases in the following years.
Having one miscarriage doesn’t increase your risk for having other miscarriages. In fact, most women will go on to carry a baby full term. Repeated miscarriages are actually quite rare.
There are many different types of miscarriage. Depending on your symptoms and the stage of your pregnancy, your doctor will diagnose your condition as one of the following:
Complete miscarriage: All pregnancy tissues have been expelled from your body.
Incomplete miscarriage: You’ve passed some tissue or placental material, but some still remains in your body.
Missed miscarriage: The embryo dies without your knowledge, and you don’t deliver it.
Threatened miscarriage: Bleeding and cramps point to a possible upcoming miscarriage.
Inevitable miscarriage: The presence of bleeding, cramping, and cervical dilation indicates that a miscarriage is inevitable.
Septic miscarriage: An infection has occurred within your uterus.
Not all miscarriages can be prevented. However, you can take steps to help maintain a healthy pregnancy. Here are a few recommendations:
- Get regular prenatal care throughout your pregnancy.
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking while pregnant.
- Maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy.
- Avoid infections. Wash your hands thoroughly, and stay away from people who are already sick.
- Limit the amount of caffeine to no more than 200 milligrams per day.
- Take prenatal vitamins to help ensure that you and your developing fetus get enough nutrients.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
Remember that having a miscarriage doesn’t mean you won’t conceive again in the future. Most women who miscarry have healthy pregnancies later.
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