A miscarriage, sometimes called pregnancy loss, is the spontaneous loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy. Most miscarriages occur before the woman knows that she is pregnant. Miscarriage affects 20 percent of all pregnancies. Although common, miscarriage can be a heartbreaking event for expectant couples, often requiring a lengthy emotional recovery and concern about potential risks and causes of future miscarriages.

Causes of a Miscarriage

There are many different potential causes for a miscarriage. Some women blame themselves for a miscarriage but miscarriage is rarely caused by something the pregnant woman did. Sexual relations, exercise, and most medications do not cause a miscarriage.

Some conditions make a miscarriage more likely, they can be:

  • Abnormalities with the development of the fetus and not as a result of health conditions or activities performed by the mother.
  • Chromosomal problems in the fetus, which occur as the embryo divides and grows. A blighted ovum is one of the most common causes of a miscarriage, during which a fertilized egg develops a placenta and membrane but no embryo.
  • Women who are over the age of 35.
  • Smoking, alcohol use or drug use increase the risk of miscarriage.
  • Pre-existing maternal conditions such as thyroid disease, diabetes, infection or autoimmune disorders can cause a miscarriage.
  • Abnormalities within the uterus, such as scar tissue or fibroids.
  • A history of previous miscarriages.
  • Women who are underweight or overweight.
  • Severe trauma.

Where possible, women should seek treatment for preexisting conditions before and during pregnancy in order to reduce the risk of miscarriage.

Symptoms of a Miscarriage

Many women do not even know that a miscarriage has occurred, because it usually resembles a heavy menstrual flow. Some women may experience cramping, spotting, and abdominal or pelvic pain when a miscarriage occurs. While these symptoms can be related to early pregnancy, patients should see their doctor to make sure the fetus is still healthy.

Treatment After a Miscarriage

After a miscarriage, most women do not need medical treatment. An ultrasound exam may indicate that tissue has been left behind in the uterus, which can be treated with a procedure called dilation and curettage. During this procedure, the cervix is dilated and tissue is removed with an instrument called a curette. Certain medications may also be prescribed to help pass the remaining tissue, or the woman can wait for the tissue to pass naturally.

While physical recovery from a miscarriage can take weeks or even months, emotional recovery is often much longer. A miscarriage can cause feelings of numbness, sadness, guilt, depression and more. Women and their partners should seek help from each other and those around them if needed. Another pregnancy can be attempted when the woman is physically and emotionally ready.

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