Understanding Miscarriage

Miscarriage can be emotionally devastating and physically draining. Medically, it's defined as the loss of a fetus or baby during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes the term spontaneous abortion is used. As difficult as it is for the women and couples who experience it, the occurrence is fairly common. Statistics vary, but generally most say that as many as 20 percent of known pregnancies end in a spontaneous abortion. Most of these losses happen before 12 weeks gestation.

Many more women lose a fertilized egg before the egg has been implanted in the uterus. Although this is a type of miscarriage, medically it isn't considered as such. Women who lose a fertilized egg before implantation often don't realize this happened and go on to get their periods at the expected time or perhaps a day or two later. Statistics show that the loss of a fertilized egg before implantation happens to approximately 40 percent of all fertilized eggs. Studies show the amount of times this happens could be as high as 50 percent.

Sometimes a miscarriage can be a sign of an underlying medical condition or fertility problem, but often this is not the case. Most practitioners will not conduct special genetic or blood tests unless a woman has had three consecutive losses. Sometimes testing will be done earlier if a woman is over 35. Second trimester miscarriages or early third trimester premature births may indicate a weakened cervix and many doctors will refer a woman to a high risk specialist after a loss like this.


In many cases, a miscarriage, especially a first trimester miscarriage cannot be explained medically. Medical professionals suspect that they could be caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg so the fertilized egg can't develop properly. Sometimes the cause is the inability to implant properly. If the miscarriage happens later in the first trimester or early in the second trimester, it could mean that the embryo or fetus (depending on the stage in pregnancy) had a structural defect that prevented it from developing.

Some early miscarriages are caused by a blighted ovum. This happens when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus, but an embryo doesn't develop but the placenta and gestational sac do. The formation of the placenta can cause pregnancy symptoms and a positive pregnancy test. With a blighted ovum, if an embryo does start to develop, abnormalities will make survival impossible and development stops before six weeks before the heart starts beating.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Any woman can have a miscarriage regardless of their age of their health. But there are some risk factors that makes the likelihood of some women miscarrying higher.

Older women have a higher chance of miscarrying. A 40-year-old woman has a 50 percent higher chance of losing their developing fetus than a 20-year-old. Some studies show that miscarriage risk rises with the more children you have.

Uterine or cervical problems can cause a miscarriage. These include scar tissue in the uterus, a weak or short cervix and sometimes uterine fibroids. Chronic diseases and disorders can also increase the risk of miscarriage. Hormonal conditions, autoimmune disorders and blood clotting disorders can also increase the risk. So can diabetes, but miscarriage risk greatly decreases if the condition is properly controlled.

According to research, certain infections can increase the chances of having a miscarriage. These infections include rubella, listeria, measles, mumps, gonorrhea, parvovirus and cytomegalovirus. Obesity is a risk factor. Some studies suggest getting pregnant within the first three months of having baby increases miscarriage risk.

Caffeine consumption can possibly increase the chances of a miscarriage, especially if the caffeine consumption is unusually high. Recreational drugs, smoking and drinking are risk factors. Even some over the counter medications like aspirin and ibuprofen can make it more difficult for a pregnancy to establish.

Toxins in the environment can increase the chances of a miscarriage. Chemicals like formaldehyde, arsenic, lead, radiation, benzene or anesthetic gases can be dangerous at all times during your pregnancy.


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