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Overview of Pregnancy Loss

What is pregnancy loss?

Pregnancy loss is the death of an unborn baby at any time during pregnancy. It is estimated that pregnancy loss occurs in over half of all early pregnancies. Most of these occur so early that the mother does not even know she is pregnant. Although 15 to 20 percent of diagnosed pregnancies are lost in the first or second trimesters of pregnancy, nearly all occur during the first trimester. Only about 1 percent of diagnosed pregnancies are lost after 16 weeks. Pregnancy loss includes:

What causes pregnancy loss?

The vast majority of pregnancy losses are due to genetic or chromosomal abnormalities. However, other factors can also play a role in pregnancy loss. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

Some women have recurrent problems in which pregnancy loss occurs over and over, usually three or more times. It is often difficult to find a cause for recurrent losses and couples may need additional testing for genetic or chromosomal problems.

Fortunately, most pregnancy losses are usually isolated events. A woman with a spontaneous early pregnancy loss has an 80 to 90 percent chance of a normal pregnancy the next time she conceives.

Why is pregnancy loss a concern?

Some pregnancy losses do not cause any problems, while others may be very serious and life threatening for the mother, if untreated. However, the most difficult part for most families is the emotional stress of the loss itself.

The loss of a baby at any time in pregnancy can be emotionally and physically difficult for the mother and other members of the family. For some families, the timing of the loss in the pregnancy may make the experience more or less difficult. For example, an early loss, before the mother even knew she was pregnant may not be as stressful as a loss later in pregnancy, after feeling fetal movement or seeing the fetus on ultrasound examination. However, parents may have strong feelings and sadness whenever a loss occurs.

Parents often experience a grief reaction to a loss, including feelings of the following:

These are normal responses to loss and may take months and sometimes years to work through. Experience with grieving families has found the following to be helpful:

What are the symptoms of pregnancy loss?

Vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of pregnancy loss. In later pregnancy, a woman with a stillborn may no longer feel fetal movements. However, each type of loss has specific symptoms. Also, each woman may exhibit different symptoms or the symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is pregnancy loss diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnosis of pregnancy loss is usually based on laboratory tests, with reported symptoms aiding in the diagnosis. Tests used to diagnose pregnancy loss may include:

Treatment for pregnancy loss:

Specific treatment for pregnancy loss will be determined by your physician based on:

Once pregnancy loss occurs, the uterus must be emptied of all the fetal tissues to prevent further complications. Counseling and support of the family is important. Your physician can help you find resources and support organizations that can help after pregnancy loss.

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