Miscarriage

Specialty of Obstetrics & gynaecology

What is miscarriage?

Miscarriage, or pregnancy loss, is when an embryo or foetus is naturally lost before being able to independently survive, in the first 23 weeks of the gestation period.

What causes miscarriage?

Sometimes the cause of miscarriage is unclear, and miscarriages can happen for many reasons. Most miscarriages are not affected by the woman herself, and most miscarriages are one-off events. Having a miscarriage does not necessarily mean you will not be able to have a successful pregnancy in the future.

Miscarriages which occur in the first trimester (i.e the first 3 months of the pregnancy) can be caused by abnormal chromosomes, which mean the baby does not develop properly. There may also be a problem with the development of the placenta, which can also lead to miscarriage.

After the first trimester, a miscarriage may occur because of health issues in the mother, or because of an infection which causes the waters to break. Food poisoning and certain medications can also increase the risk of miscarriage.

Symptoms of miscarriage

The commonest sign of miscarriage is vaginal bleeding. The bleeding may occur over several days, and can come in the form of spotting, heavy bleeding, or passing bright red clots. This bleeding can come and go, and because vaginal bleeding can occur lightly during the first trimester of pregnancy, it doesn’t necessarily indicate miscarriage. Speak to your healthcare provider or GP if you experience vaginal bleeding during pregnancy.

You may also feel:

  • Cramp in your lower abdomen
  • The regular symptoms of pregnancy, such as tender breasts, are no longer present
  • Discharge of fluid or tissue from the vagina

Can miscarriage be prevented?

Most miscarriages cannot be prevented, however there are certain activities or states which can increase the risk of miscarriage. Risk factor is increased if:

  • You smoke, drink, or take drugs while pregnant
  • You are overweight
  • Your caffeine intake is high
  • You have diabetes which is not adequately controlled
  • You have an overactive or underactive thyroid
  • You have severe high blood pressure
  • You have kidney disease
  • You are a certain age:
  1. 1 in 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage in those under 30
  2. Up to 2 in 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage in those between the ages of 35-39
  3. Over 5 in 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage in those aged over 45

After a miscarriage

After a miscarriage, it is normal to feel an emotional impact. The miscarriage can affect not just you, but family and friends around you. Support is available for those who have lost a baby in miscarriage. Speak to your GP for advice, and you may be able to find a counselling group or counsellor who can help you and your family through what can be a difficult time. The NHS can help you to find bereavement support services in your area, or you may choose to visit a private qualified therapist or psychologist.

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