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Placental Abruption

Placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the uterus before the fetus is delivered. The placenta is the organ that provides nourishment for the fetus while it is still in the uterus. In a healthy pregnancy, the placenta remains attached to the uterine wall until after the fetus is delivered.

Some form of the condition affects about one in every 150 births. In very severe forms, placental abruption can cause death to the fetus. This occurs less commonly. Death of the mother from placental abruption is very rare.

Placental abruption can cause:

  • Premature delivery
  • Fetal anemia
  • Low birth weight
  • Significant blood loss for the mother
  • Fetal death

Placental Abruption

Placental Abruption

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What Causes Placental Abruption?

The direct cause of placental abruption is not clearly understood. It may be a combination of several events, including:

  • Impaired formation and structure of the placenta
  • Low oxygen levels inside the uterus
  • Rupture of maternal artery or vein which causes bleeding behind the placental wall
  • Injury to the abdomen from an accident or a fall
  • Sudden decrease in the volume of the uterus, from significant loss of amniotic fluid or from the delivery of a first twin

Are You at Risk?

Factors that may increase your chance of developing placental abruption:

  • Previous placental abruption in a prior pregnancy
  • High blood pressure during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy during older age
  • Multiple previous deliveries
  • Excessively distended uterus
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Drug misuse, especially cocaine

Stay healthy during your pregnancy to reduce your risk of placental abruption:

  • Avoid taking drugs and smoking
  • Receive proper and regular prenatal care
  • Promptly treat conditions such as high blood pressure

Symptoms of Placental Abruption

In the early stages, you may not have symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Rapid contractions
  • Soreness in the uterus
  • Feeling faint
  • Baby moving less

Diagnosing Placental Abruption

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may:

  • Conduct a pelvic exam
  • Ultrasound
  • Blood coagulation profile to determine how long it takes for your blood to clot

How We Treat Placental Abruption

To treat your condition, we can:

  • Replace lost fluids with an IV
  • Replace lost blood with blood transfusions
  • Monitor mother and fetus for distress, shock or abnormal heart rates

We may need to deliver the baby. If danger exists for mother or fetus, an emergency cesarean section may be done. If both the mother and fetus are at low risk of complications and the fetus is full-term, the mother may deliver vaginally.


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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