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Miscarriage refers to the premature end of a pregnancy before the developing baby is able to survive outside the womb. Miscarriage can occur during the first or second trimester, before 20 weeks. Most occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and are unexpected and isolated events. About 15-20 percent of recognized pregnancies end this way.

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Fetus in First Trimester

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What Causes a Miscarriage?

Miscarriages often occur for the following reasons:

  • Chromosomal abnormalities (common cause)
  • Abnormalities in the uterine tract, like fibroids
  • Hormonal problems, such as not having enough progesterone, a female hormone needed to support pregnancy
  • Factors related to the immune system that may cause blood-clotting problems or rejection of the fetus
  • Trauma

In some cases, the cause is unknown.

Who is at Risk for Miscarriage?

Factors that may increase the risk of miscarriage include:

  • Having an infection
  • Being older (maternal age of 35 years or older)
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Taking certain prescribed medicines
  • Being exposed to certain environmental toxins
  • Having a long-term condition that affects the immune system, including lupus and diabetes
  • Having high-dose radiation therapy on the ovary and uterus or the pituitary gland during treatment for childhood cancer

Having a miscarriage during your first pregnancy may place you at a higher risk for complications during your next pregnancy. These complications may include:

  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Threatened miscarriage
  • Induced labor
  • Preterm delivery
  • Low birth weight
  • Postpartum hemorrhage

Miscarriage Symptoms

Symptoms include some or all of the following:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pink or brown discharge
  • Cramping
  • Passing the fetus, placenta and surrounding membranes through the vagina
  • Fever

Recurrent Miscarriage

While miscarriage usually is a one-time occurrence, up to 1 in 20 couples experience two miscarriages in a row, and 1 in 100 have three or more. In some cases, these couples have an underlying problem. Couples who have experienced two or more miscarriages should have a complete medical evaluation to learn the cause and how they can prevent another one from occurring.

Cause of repeat miscarriages may include:

  • Chromosome problem in one member of the couple
  • Uterine abnormalities
  • Hormone problems
  • Immune system problems
  • Unknown causes

Is it a Miscarriage?

You will be asked about your symptoms, the length of your pregnancy and when you first noticed a change in your condition. The doctor will perform physical and pelvic exams.

Prior to miscarriage, tests may include:

  • Ultrasound testing — to assess the health of the fetus
  • Blood test — to check the exact amount of the hormone (called human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG) important to sustain an early pregnancy

After miscarriage, tests may include:

  • Examination of the tissue that has passed through the vagina
  • Blood tests — to check for a chromosomal error in the man or the woman or to check hormone and antibody levels
  • Imaging tests — (e.g., X-rays, ultrasound) to identify a problem with your uterus
  • Endometrial biopsy —to check the uterine lining to see if it can support a pregnancy
  • Hysteroscopy — to examine the inside of the uterus

Miscarriage Care

Immediate care usually involves observation only, especially in early or first trimester miscarriages. Medicine may be indicated in the event of heavy bleeding or cramping.

A dilation and evacuation (D&E) may be needed if uterine contents are not spontaneously passed through the vagina. During a D&E, the doctor dilates the cervix, inserts a tool into the uterus and suctions out remaining material.

Support Services

To help you deal with your loss, the doctor can refer you to a mental health therapist. You may also benefit from participating in a support group.

Prevent a Miscarriage

Before you start to plan your next pregnancy, consider:

  • Is your diet ready to support another pregnancy?
  • Are there habits you should change prior to another pregnancy?
  • What medicines are you taking and will they affect a pregnancy?
  • How is your health?
  • Are there issues you should resolve before trying another pregnancy?

If a specific cause of the miscarriage was found, certain treatments may help prevent future miscarriages:

  • Medications such as:
    • Antibiotics to treat related infections
    • Hormone (progesterone) supplements
    • Aspirin and other medicines to treat blood-clotting problems
  • Surgery for uterine problems like:
    • Uterine fibroids
    • Septate uterus (tissue in the center of the uterus)
    • Incompetent (weakened) cervix


Call 434.243.3675.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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