Dealing with pregnancy loss

Unfortunately, miscarriage is a fairly common event that can affect any woman in the first 24 weeks of her pregnancy. Although there are measures that you can take to reduce your risk of miscarriage, pregnancy loss can occur in women with no previous health problems. Learn about the causes of miscarriage and the effect it can have on your body.

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What Can Cause a Miscarriage?

Miscarriage, also known as spontaneous abortion, will occur in almost 20 percent of confirmed pregnancies, and likely just as often before a woman even realizes she's pregnant; the causes will differ depending on the stage of pregnancy. In the early stages, miscarriage is often incited by an abnormality in the fetus. In over 50 percent of all early miscarriages, the fetus will not develop properly because of problems with the chromosomes, which could result from a genetically faulty egg or sperm. Egg quality will decrease with age, and so women over 35 are at an increased risk of miscarrying in early pregnancy.

An expectant mother's lifestyle will play a fairly large role in determining risk of miscarriage, as certain chemicals and hormones can affect the length and health of the pregnancy. A stress-related hormone called CRH is believed to be at least partly responsible for miscarriage, premature and low birth weight babies, as are the chemicals found in tobacco smoke and the presence of infection. Good prenatal nutrition and a thorough medical examination to detect any hormonal imbalances or infections will go far to prevent early pregnancy loss.

When spontaneous abortion occurs later than the 20th week of pregnancy, it is termed a stillbirth and the underlying cause is often a problem with the uterus, cervix or placenta. A condition known as incompetent cervix can lead to miscarriage or premature birth if it is not treated early, and chromosomal abnormalities can prevent the baby from fully developing. However, 25 to 60 percent of stillbirths are unexplained, and many healthy women that miscarry go on to have healthy, full-term pregnancies later on.

Miscarriage Symptoms

The most common signs of miscarriage are abdominal cramping and vaginal bleeding, which will often resemble a heavy period; in fact, many women do not even realize they're having a miscarriage if it's very early in the pregnancy. Miscarriages that occur later in pregnancy typically bring more severe bleeding and cramping, along with other preterm labor symptoms such as backache, pelvic pressure or frequent contractions.

Although vaginal bleeding can indicate a miscarriage, this isn't always the case—about 10 percent of women will have some harmless bleeding at some point in the pregnancy. If your physician confirms that you have had or are having a miscarriage, chances are that it has not been caused by anything you did or didn't do. Pregnancy after miscarriage can bring mixed emotions, but most women will still be able to have one or more healthy, normal pregnancies.