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Miscarriage is the loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks of pregnancy. The embryo or fetus cannot live on its own outside the uterus that early in pregnancy. The medical term for miscarriage is spontaneous abortion.

Many of us who experience miscarriage are not aware that it is fairly common. For every 10 pregnancies, 1 to 2 end in miscarriage. Miscarriage is most likely to happen early in pregnancy — in fact, 8 out of 10 miscarriages happen in the first three months of pregnancy.

What Causes Miscarriage?

If you’ve had a miscarriage, you’ve probably wondered why it happened. Some individuals even blame themselves for miscarriage. But miscarriage is rarely caused by something the pregnant person did. Having sex, exercise, a mild fall, and most medications do not cause miscarriage.

It may be difficult for health care providers to know what caused a particular miscarriage. But we do know some things that make miscarriage more likely in general:

  • The embryo or fetus has a chromosome that causes it to develop abnormally. This is not usually a sign of a condition that could cause problems in future pregnancies. It usually happens by chance when the fertilized egg divides and grows. This problem causes at least half of miscarriages.
  • A person’s risk of miscarriage increases as they age.
  • Severe chronic illness — such as poorly controlled diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus — can cause miscarriage.
  • Severe trauma and very serious infections also can cause miscarriage.
  • Abnormalities in the uterus, like scar tissue or uterine fibroids, can cause late miscarriages — after three months.
  • Smoking, the use of alcohol or cocaine, and heavy caffeine use have all been tied to miscarriage.
    • Individuals who are underweight or overweight have a greater risk of miscarriage than others.
  • People who have had two or more miscarriages in a row are at a greater risk of having future miscarriages.

Signs of a possible miscarriage include:

  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe cramping
  • Dull, lower-back ache, pressure, or pain
  • A change in vaginal discharge

What Can I Expect During Miscarriage?

Not all miscarriages cause physical pain. But most individuals have some cramping. For some people, the cramping can be quite strong. For others, it is gentler.

Some also have bleeding and may pass large blood clots. Many women are surprised and scared by the heavy bleeding that can occur during a miscarriage.

The bleeding and cramping can last for a short time, or may last for several hours. Your health care provider can give you medicine and advice about how to manage the pain and cramps during your miscarriage as well as guidance about what is and is not normal to expect. It is important to keep your health care provider aware of what is going on and how you are doing.

Whether it’s painful or not or happens quickly or not, miscarriage can be a very upsetting experience.

These signs may be caused by a condition that is less serious than miscarriage. But you should have a health care provider check you to be safe.

If you think you are having or may have had a miscarriage, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. Your health care provider may do a pelvic exam or other tests.