Spontaneous abortion (SAB), or miscarriage, is the term used for a pregnancy that ends on it's own, within the first 20 weeks of gestation. The medical name spontaneous abortion (SAB) gives many women a negative feeling, so throughout this article we will refer to any type of spontaneous abortion or pregnancy loss under 20 weeks as miscarriage.
Miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Studies reveal that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Chemical pregnancies may account for 50-75% of all miscarriages. This occurs when a pregnancy is lost shortly after implantation, resulting in bleeding that occurs around the time of her expected period. The woman may not realize that she conceived when she experiences a chemical pregnancy.
Most miscarriages occur during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Pregnancy can be such an exciting time, but with the great number of recognized miscarriages that occur, it is beneficial to be informed about miscarriage, in the unfortunate event that you find yourself or someone you know faced with one.
There can be many confusing terms and moments that accompany a miscarriage. There are different types of miscarriage, different treatments for each, and different statistics for what your chances are of having one. The following information gives a broad overview of miscarriage. This information is provided to help equip you with knowledge so that you might not feel so alone or lost if you face a possible miscarriage situation. As with most pregnancy complications, remember that the best person you can usually talk to and ask questions of is your health care provider.
What causes a miscarriage, and what are the tests for the different causes?
The cause of a miscarriage cannot always be determined. The most common known causes of miscarriage in the first third of pregnancy (1st trimester) are chromosomal abnormalities, collagen vascular disease (such as lupus), diabetes, other hormonal problems infection, and congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the uterus. Chromosomal abnormalities of the fetus are the most common cause of early miscarriages, including blighted ovum (see above). Each of the causes will be described below.
Chromosomes are microscopic components of every cell in the body that carry all of the genetic material that determine hair color, eye color, and overall appearance and makeup. These chromosomes duplicate themselves and divide many times during the process of development, and there are numerous points along the way where a problem can occur. Certain genetic abnormalities are known to be more prevalent in couples that experience repeated pregnancy losses. These genetic traits can be screened for by blood tests prior to attempting to become pregnant. Half of the fetal tissue from1st trimester miscarriages contain abnormal chromosomes. This number drops to 20% with 2nd trimester miscarriages. In other words, abnormal chromosomes are more common with 1st trimester than with 2nd trimester miscarriages. First trimester miscarriages are so very common that unless they occur more than once, they are not considered "abnormal" per se. They do not prompt further evaluation unless they occur more than once. In contrast, 2nd trimester miscarriages are more unusual, and therefore may trigger evaluation even after a first occurrence. It is therefore clear that causes of miscarriages seem to vary according to trimester.
Chromosomal abnormalities also become more common with aging, and women over age 35 have a higher rate of miscarriage than younger women. Advancing maternal age is the most significant risk factor for early miscarriage in otherwise healthy women.
Collagen vascular diseases are illnesses in which a person's own immune system attacks their own organs. These diseases can be potentially very serious, either during or between pregnancies. In these diseases, a woman makes antibodies to her own body's tissues. Examples of collagen vascular diseases associated with an increased risk of miscarriage are systemic lupus erythematosus, and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. Blood tests can confirm the presence of abnormal antibodies and are used to diagnose these conditions.
Diabetes generally can be well-managed during pregnancy, if a woman and her doctor work closely together. However, if the diabetes is insufficiently controlled, not only is the risk of miscarriages higher, but the baby can have major birth defects. Other problems can also occur in relation to diabetes during pregnancy. Good control of blood sugars during pregnancy is very important.
Hormonal factors may be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, including Cushing's Syndrome, thyroid disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome. It has also been suggested that inadequate function of the corpus luteum in the ovary (which produced progesterone necessary for maintenance of the very early stages of pregnancy) may lead to miscarriage. Termed luteal phase defect, this is a controversial issue, since several studies have not supported the theory of luteal phase defect as a cause of pregnancy loss.
Maternal infection with a large number of different organisms has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage. Fetal or placental infection by the offending organism then leads to pregnancy loss. Examples of infections that have been associated with miscarriage include infections by Listeria monocytogenes, Toxoplasma gondii, parvovirus B19, rubella, herpes simplex, cytomegalovirus, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. Abnormal anatomy of the uterus can also cause miscarriages. In some women there can be a tissue bridge (uterine septum), that acts like a partial wall dividing the uterine cavity into sections. The septum usually has a very poor blood supply, and is not well suited for placental attachment and growth. Therefore, an embryo implanting on the septum would be at increased risk of miscarriage.
Other structural abnormalities can result from benign growths in the uterus called fibroids. Fibroid tumors (leiomyomata) are benign growths of muscle cells in the uterus. While most fibroid tumors do not cause miscarriages, (in fact, they are a rare cause of infertility), some can interfere with the embryo implantation and the embryo's blood supply, thereby causing miscarriage.
Invasive surgical procedures in the uterus, such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, also slightly increase the risk of miscarriage.
What are the chances of having a miscarriage?
For women in childbearing years, the chances of having a miscarriage can range from 10-25%, and in most healthy women the average is about a 15-20% chance.
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