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Miscarriage

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Sep 8, 2023.

Overview

Miscarriage is the sudden loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week. About 10% to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. But the actual number is likely higher. This is because many miscarriages happen early on, before people realize they're pregnant.

The term miscarriage might sound as if something was amiss in the carrying of the pregnancy. This is rarely true. Many miscarriages happen because the unborn baby does not develop properly.

Miscarriage is a somewhat common experience — but that doesn't make it any easier. If you've lost a pregnancy, take a step toward emotional healing by learning more. Understand what can cause a miscarriage, what raises the risk and what medical care might be needed.

Symptoms

Most miscarriages happen during the first trimester of pregnancy, which is about the first 13 weeks.

The symptoms can include:

If you have passed tissue from your vagina, place it in a clean container. Then, bring it to your health care professional's office or the hospital. A lab can examine the tissue to check for signs of a miscarriage.

Keep in mind that most pregnant people who have vaginal spotting or bleeding in the first trimester go on to have successful pregnancies. But call your pregnancy care team right away if your bleeding is heavy or happens with cramping pain.

Causes

Irregular genes or chromosomes

Most miscarriages happen because the unborn baby doesn't develop properly. About half to two-thirds of miscarriages in the first trimester are linked with extra or missing chromosomes. Chromosomes are structures in each cell that contain genes, the instructions for how people look and function. When an egg and sperm unite, two sets of chromosomes — one from each parent — join together. But if either set has fewer or more chromosomes than usual, that can lead to a miscarriage.

Chromosome conditions might lead to:

Maternal health conditions

In a few cases, having certain health conditions might lead to miscarriage. Examples include:

What does NOT cause miscarriage

Routine activities such as these don't cause a miscarriage:

Some people who've had a miscarriage blame themselves. They think they lost the pregnancy because they fell, had a bad scare or other reasons. But most of the time, miscarriage happens because of a random event that is no one's fault.

Risk factors

Various factors raise the risk of miscarriage, including:

Complications

Sometimes, pregnancy tissue that stays in the uterus after a miscarriage can lead to a uterine infection about 1 to 2 days later. The infection is called a septic miscarriage. Symptoms include:

Call your health care professional's office or your local OB triage or emergency department if you have these symptoms. The illness can get worse fast and become life-threatening without treatment.

Heavy bleeding from the vagina, called a hemorrhage, is another miscarriage complication. Along with the bleeding, a hemorrhage often happens with symptoms such as:

Get medical care at once. Some people who have a hemorrhage need blood from a donor or surgery.

Prevention

Often, there's nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage. Instead, focus on taking good care of yourself and your unborn baby:

If you have a long-term health condition, work with your health care team to keep it under control.

Diagnosis

Your health care team might do a variety of tests:

If your test results show that you had a miscarriage or are at risk of having one, your health care professional might use one of the following medical terms to describe what happened:

Treatment

Threatened miscarriage

If you have bleeding from the vagina early in your pregnancy, your health care team might recommend that you rest until your symptoms get better. Bed rest and other treatments haven't been proved to prevent miscarriage, but sometimes they're prescribed as a safeguard. Don't use tampons or have sex while you still have bleeding, because these could lead to an infection of the uterus.

In some cases, it's also a good idea to delay any traveling — especially to areas where it would be hard to get medical care quickly. Ask your health care team if you should put off any trips you've planned.

Miscarriage

If tests show that you're having or will have a miscarriage, your health care team might recommend one of the following treatment choices:

After a miscarriage, if you are blood type Rh negative, you also may get a shot of medicine called Rh immunoglobulin. Ask your health care team about your blood type and need for Rh immunoglobulin. If you are RH positive, you will not need Rh immunoglobulin. The shot can help prevent problems with a future pregnancy. It's given to some people whose blood type is Rh negative, often depending on how many weeks they were pregnant. Rh negative means you don't have a protein in your blood called Rh factor. If you get pregnant again and the unborn baby is Rh positive — meaning its blood has the protein — that can lead to life-threatening anemia or other problems for the baby.

Physical recovery

In most cases, physical recovery from miscarriage takes only a few hours to a couple of days. In the meantime, call your health care professional if you have:

Most people who have a miscarriage get their period about two weeks after any light bleeding or spotting stops. You can start using any type of birth control right after a miscarriage. But don't have sex or put anything in your vagina — such as a tampon — for 1 to 2 weeks after a miscarriage. This helps prevent an infection.

Future pregnancies

It's possible to become pregnant during the menstrual cycle right after a miscarriage. But if you and your partner decide to try again, make sure that your body and mind are ready. Ask your health care professional for advice about when you might try to conceive.

Keep in mind that miscarriage often happens just once. Most people who miscarry go on to have a healthy pregnancy after miscarriage. Only two percent of people have two miscarriages in row. And up to 1% have three miscarriages in a row.

If you have more than one miscarriage, think about getting tested to find any underlying causes. This can be especially helpful if you've had 2 to 3 pregnancy losses in a row. There's a chance tests could find conditions of the uterus, chromosome conditions, blood clotting problems or issues with the immune system. If the cause of your miscarriages can't be found, don't lose hope. It's still possible to have a healthy baby. Overall, people who've had three miscarriages still have a 60% to 80% chance of having a full-term pregnancy.

Coping and support

Emotional healing can take much longer than physical healing. Miscarriage can be a heart-wrenching loss that others around you might not fully understand. Your emotions might range from anger and guilt to despair. And your partner's emotions may seem different from your own. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your pregnancy, and ask loved ones for help if you need it.

You might never forget your hopes and dreams surrounding this pregnancy, but in time acceptance might ease your pain. Talk to your health care professional if you feel ongoing sadness or stress. You might have a treatable condition such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Counseling sessions with a mental health professional may help. So might talking with people who've lost pregnancies in a miscarriage support group.

Preparing for an appointment

If you have symptoms of miscarriage, call your health care team right away. Depending on your situation, you might need urgent medical care.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect.

What you can do

Before your appointment:

Below are some basic questions to ask your doctor or other members of your health care team about miscarriage:

Feel free to ask other questions during your appointment too — especially if you need more information or you don't understand something.

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care professional is likely to ask you some questions too. For example:

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