Intro

A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy before week 20. Experiencing a miscarriage can be devastating, especially when you’re anticipating a new addition to your family.

Unfortunately, about 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

How long a miscarriage lasts can vary, depending on a number of factors.

Risks of having a miscarriage

The risk of a miscarriage increases with age:

  • Women under the age of 35 have about a 10 percent chance of miscarriage.
  • Women between the ages of 35 and 45 have a 20 to 30 percent chance.
  • If you become pregnant after the age of 45, your chance of miscarriage increases to 50 percent.

A miscarriage can happen to anyone, but the risk is higher if you suffer from a chronic condition such as diabetes, or if you have uterine or cervical problems.

Other contributing factors include being:

  • a smoker
  • a heavy alcohol drinker
  • underweight
  • overweight

How long does a miscarriage last?

If you experience a miscarriage before realizing you’re pregnant, you may mistakenly blame bleeding and cramping on your menstrual cycle. Some women have miscarriages and never know about it. This is because the process can happen quickly.

The length of a miscarriage differs for every woman, and it depends on different factors. For example, how far along you are in the pregnancy, whether you were carrying multiples, and how long it takes your body to expel the fetal tissue and placenta.

A woman early in her pregnancy may have a miscarriage and only experience bleeding and cramping for a few hours. But another woman may have miscarriage bleeding for up to a week.

The bleeding can be heavy with clots, but it slowly tapers off over days before completely stopping. It usually stops within two weeks. If the embryo is absorbed into your body, you may not experience a lot of bleeding.

Symptoms of a miscarriage

A miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a fetus. The majority of miscarriages take place before the week 12 of pregnancy.

Symptoms of a miscarriage vary, but may include:

  • vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • abdominal pain
  • cramping in the lower back
  • fluid or discharge from the vagina

What are the causes of a miscarriage?

After having a miscarriage, you may blame yourself and wonder what you could have done to prevent the loss. Understand that most miscarriages happen for reasons beyond your control. Some miscarriages occur because of abnormalities with a developing fetus.

These include:

  • blighted ovum, where an embryo doesn’t form
  • intrauterine fetal demise, where an embryo dies before there are pregnancy loss symptoms

Sometimes the cause is a molar pregnancy, which is a noncancerous tumor in the uterus (a small number of molar pregnancies can develop into cancer).

Chromosomal abnormalities caused by a damaged egg or sperm can also cause a miscarriage. Another potential cause is trauma to the stomach from an accident or fall.

Daily activities do not typically cause a pregnancy loss. These include activities like exercise (once your doctor says it’s OK) and sex.

What to do if you have a miscarriage

If you think you’re having a miscarriage, seek medical help immediately. There are different tests your doctor can run to determine whether a miscarriage has occurred.

You’ll have a pelvic examination where your doctor checks your cervix. Your doctor might perform an ultrasound to check the fetal heartbeat. A blood test can look for the pregnancy hormone.

If you’ve passed pregnancy tissue, bring a sample of the tissue to your appointment so your doctor can confirm the miscarriage.

Types of miscarriage

There are different types of miscarriages, including the following.

Threatened miscarriage

You experience bleeding, but your cervix isn’t dilated. There’s a risk of miscarriage, but with observation and sometimes medical intervention, you may be able to continue the pregnancy.

Inevitable miscarriage

This is when your uterus is dilated and contracting, and your doctor confirms that a miscarriage will occur.

Incomplete miscarriage

Your body releases fetal tissue, but some of the tissue remains in your uterus.

Missed miscarriage

The embryo has died, but the placenta and embryonic tissue remain in your uterus.

Complete miscarriage

You’ve had a miscarriage and your body has passed all the pregnancy tissue.

If you ignore a possible miscarriage, you could develop septic miscarriage, which is a serious uterine infection. Signs of this complication include a fever, chills, abdominal tenderness, and foul-smelling vaginal discharge.

Ways to treat a miscarriage

Treatments vary according to the type of miscarriage. With a threatened miscarriage, your doctor may recommend rest and limited activity until the pain and bleeding stop. If there’s a continued risk for a miscarriage, you may have to remain on bed rest until labor and delivery.

In some cases, you can let a miscarriage progress naturally, which can take up to a couple of weeks. Your doctor can give you medicine to help you pass the pregnancy tissue and placenta faster, which can be taken orally or vaginally.

Treatment is usually effective within 24 hours. If for some reason your body doesn't expel all of the tissue or placenta, your doctor can perform a procedure called dilation and curettage. This involves dilating the cervix and removing any remaining tissue.

Next steps

A miscarriage can be emotionally painful and devastating. But you shouldn’t blame yourself. A pregnancy loss can still occur even if you don’t smoke, drink, and practice healthy habits. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage.

After a miscarriage, you can expect a menstrual cycle in about four to six weeks. At this point, you can conceive again if you’re emotionally ready. You can take precautions like taking prenatal vitamins, limiting your caffeine intake, and avoiding stomach trauma.

Having a miscarriage doesn't mean you can’t have a baby. But if you have multiple miscarriages, your doctor may suggest testing to determine the underlying cause.

Q:

Can a woman get pregnant after experiencing a miscarriage?

A:

Most miscarriages occur early in pregnancy and are usually not recurrent, so most women can get pregnant as soon as they start their menses again (if this is their first pregnancy loss). This usually occurs around six weeks after the miscarriage. Most healthcare providers do recommend avoiding intercourse for the first two weeks after a pregnancy loss, but barring complications, most women can try as soon as they are ready. If a woman has had two or more miscarriages in a row, they need to talk to their doctor to see if testing and possibly treatment are necessary before they conceive. 

Dr. Michael Weber Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.