What is a miscarriage?
A miscarriage is also known as pregnancy loss. Up to 25 percent of all clinically diagnosed pregnancies end in miscarriage.
A miscarriage is most likely to occur in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Some women may experience miscarriage before they realize they were pregnant. While bleeding is a common symptom associated with miscarriage, there are other symptoms that can occur, too.
Vaginal bleeding and/or spotting are common symptoms of a miscarriage. Some women may mistake a miscarriage for a menstrual period. But it’s not the only sign. Other symptoms of a miscarriage include:
- back pain
- pelvic cramping (may feel like you’re getting your period)
- severe abdominal pain
- fluid coming from your vagina
- tissue coming from your vagina
- unexplained weakness
- the disappearance of other pregnancy symptoms, such as breast soreness or morning sickness.
If you do pass pieces of tissue from your vagina, your doctor will likely advise keeping any pieces in a container. This is so they can be analyzed. When a miscarriage occurs very early, the tissue may look like a small blood clot.
Some women may experience light bleeding or spotting during a normal pregnancy. If you’re uncertain if your bleeding levels are normal, call your doctor.
If you’ve had a positive pregnancy test and are concerned that you may have lost your baby, contact your doctor. They will conduct several exams to determine if a miscarriage has occurred.
This includes an ultrasound to determine if your baby is present in the womb and has a heartbeat. Your doctor may also test your hormone levels, such as your human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels. This hormone is commonly associated with pregnancy.
Even if you’re certain you had a miscarriage, it’s important to see your doctor. This is because it’s possible that even if you passed some tissue from your body, some may remain. This can be dangerous for your health.
Your doctor may recommend procedures to remove any fetal or placental tissue. Examples include a dilation and curettage (D and C), which removes any fetal tissues from the uterus. This allows your uterus to heal and ideally prepare itself for another healthy pregnancy.
Not all women who’ve had a miscarriage require a D and C. But if a woman experiences heavy bleeding and/or signs of infection, surgical intervention may be required.
For the most part, miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities. Often, the embryo doesn’t divide and grow properly. This results in fetal abnormalities that keep your pregnancy from progressing. Other factors that could cause a miscarriage include:
- hormone levels that are too high or low
- diabetes that isn’t well-controlled
- exposure to environmental hazards like radiation or toxic chemicals
- a cervix that opens and thins before a baby has had enough time to develop
- taking medications or illegal drugs known to harm a baby
Your doctor may know what caused your miscarriage, but sometimes the miscarriage cause is unknown.
If you suspect a miscarriage has happened or believe a miscarriage is about to take place, see your doctor, who may perform an ultrasound or blood test.
These tests might indicate a miscarriage is likely. When this is the case, a woman may choose to miscarry at a medical facility or at home.
Miscarrying at a medical facility like a hospital, surgery center, or clinic, involves a D and C procedure. This involves removing any tissue from the pregnancy. Some women prefer this option instead of awaiting bleeding, cramping, and other potential miscarriage symptoms.
Other women may choose to miscarry at home without undergoing a minor surgical procedure. A doctor can prescribe a medication known as misoprostol (Cytotec), which causes uterine contractions that can contribute to miscarriage. Other women may allow the process to happen naturally.
The decision on how to proceed with a miscarriage is an individual one. A doctor should weigh each option with you.
If your doctor does say you’re having a miscarriage, your symptoms may persist for anywhere from one to two weeks. Your doctor may recommend avoiding tampons or engaging in intercourse during this time. This is an infection-prevention measure.
While you can expect some spotting, bleeding, or cramping, there are some symptoms you should call your doctor about immediately. These could indicate a post-miscarriage infection or hemorrhage.
Let your doctor know if you experience:
- soaking more than two pads an hour for two hours or more in a row
- severe pain
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or conduct further testing to determine if an infection is taking place. You may also wish to contact your doctor if you’re feeling dizzy or tired. This can indicate anemia.
While the physical recovery period after a miscarriage may take a few weeks, the mental recovery period can be much longer.
You may wish to find a support group, such as Share Pregnancy and Loss Support. Your doctor may also know of pregnancy loss support groups in your area.
Experiencing a miscarriage doesn’t mean that you’ll never get pregnant again. Many women go on to have successful and healthy pregnancies.
If you’ve had multiple miscarriages, your doctor may perform tests to determine if you have medical conditions or abnormalities. These could indicate you have a condition that affects your ability to get pregnant. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.
Am I able to have a healthy pregnancy after experiencing a miscarriage?
In most cases, having a miscarriage is a one time event. Most women are able to go on to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery without needing any further intervention. But there are a small number of women who will go on to have multiple miscarriages. Sadly, the rate of pregnancy loss increases with each subsequent miscarriage. If this happens to you, make an appointment with your obstetrician or a fertility specialist to be evaluated.Nicole Galan, R.N. Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.