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What is a miscarriage?

Miscarriage is when an embryo or fetus dies before the 20th week of pregnancy. Miscarriage usually happens early in your pregnancy — 8 out of 10 miscarriages happen in the first 3 months.  

Lots of people experience this kind of pregnancy loss. In fact, 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. But even though miscarriage is common, it can be emotionally difficult. Feelings of grief and loss are normal after losing a pregnancy.

The medical term for miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion.”

What are the causes of miscarriages?

It can be difficult to know exactly why a miscarriage happened, but it’s almost never caused by something the pregnant person did. Normal activities like sex, exercise, working, and taking most medicines do NOT cause a miscarriage. Minor injuries, like falling, don’t generally cause a miscarriage either.

Some things that are known to cause miscarriages include:

  • When the fertilized egg has an abnormal number of chromosomes (genes). This happens at random, so you can’t prevent it or cause it to happen.

  • Certain illnesses, like severe diabetes, can increase your chances of having a miscarriage.

  • A very serious infection or a major injury may cause miscarriage.

  • Late miscarriages — after 3 months — may be caused by abnormalities in the uterus.

  • If you’ve had more than 2 miscarriages in a row, you’re more likely to have a miscarriage.

What are the different types of miscarriages?

There are several types of miscarriages:

  • Threatened miscarriage — You have vaginal bleeding and may have mild cramps, but your cervix stays closed. Half of the time, the bleeding stops and your pregnancy goes on normally. The other half of threatened miscarriages become inevitable miscarriages, and end in pregnancy loss.

  • Inevitable miscarriage — You have increasing bleeding, and your cervix opens. If this happens, there’s no chance for your pregnancy to continue.

  • Incomplete miscarriage — Some of the pregnancy tissue comes out of your uterus, and some stays inside. You may need follow-up treatment to remove the remaining tissue.

  • Complete miscarriage — All the pregnancy tissue comes out of your uterus. You usually don’t need any extra treatment.

  • Missed miscarriage — You have no cramps or bleeding. But ultrasound shows an embryo without a heartbeat or an empty pregnancy sac without an embryo. Usually the tissue passes on its own, but you may need treatment.

Treatments for miscarriage include medicines or procedures that are very similar to those used for abortion. During aspiration, a nurse or doctor puts a thin plastic tube in your uterus and removes the pregnancy tissue with gentle suction.

Miscarriages can be dangerous if they’re not treated. Call your doctor right away if you have any signs or symptoms of miscarriage.

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