A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy that occurs less than 20 weeks into the pregnancy. This is well before the time when a baby could survive outside the womb, and it results in the death of the unborn fetus. It's estimated that about one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, though the number may be higher because many women miscarry before they even know they're pregnant.
When a woman or family is aware that the miscarriage has occurred, it is often emotionally devastating. And though it’s a difficult experience, it’s also important to remember that the cause is usually unknown, and a miscarriage is very rarely due to anything that the mother did or didn’t do.
Causes of Miscarriage
Though the cause of miscarriage is often unknown, some things can increase the chances of a miscarriage occurring. Sometimes, it’s a problem with the fetus, such as a chromosomal abnormality or a blighted ovum, which is a pregnancy sac that forms without a fetus. Other times, medical conditions in the mother can increase the risk for miscarriage. These include lupus, diabetes, thyroid problems and certain hormonal disorders or infections. Smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs and high caffeine consumption also can contribute to miscarriage.
When a miscarriage occurs, some women experience no symptoms. Others may feel pain, cramping or vaginal bleeding. It’s worth a visit to the doctor if you notice any of these sensations early in a pregnancy.
In most cases, a miscarriage clears the uterus like a heavy period, and no treatment for the woman is needed. In some instances, however, a woman may need medication or a surgical procedure to clear any remaining tissue from the uterus. In the case of multiple miscarriages, additional testing may be warranted to determine the cause and to evaluate a couple’s outlook for a future pregnancy.
SOURCES: March of Dimes; KidsHealth, the Nemours Foundation
Women who experience pregnancy loss may suffer long-term post-traumatic stress.