Threatened abortion is the term used to describe vaginal bleeding that occurs in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Vaginal bleeding could indicate risk of miscarriage.
While miscarriages do occur, many women may experience symptoms of miscarriage and then go on to carry pregnancies to full term. Although the name is somewhat misleading, this is called a “threatened abortion.” Other terms used for the condition include threatened miscarriage or threatened spontaneous abortion.
Approximately 20 to 30 percent of women experience bleeding in the first half of pregnancy (NYU Medical Center, 2011).
Stomach cramps during which vaginal bleeding may or may not be present could indicate a potential miscarriage. The other sign of a potential miscarriage is any type of vaginal bleeding before the twentieth week of pregnancy.
During an actual miscarriage, women often experience dull to sharp pain in the abdomen and lower back, and may pass clot-like material from the vagina (NCBI, 2010).
Possible factors that may increase your risk of experiencing a threatened abortion include:
- bacterial or viral infection during pregnancy
- trauma to the abdomen
- advanced maternal age (over 35 years old)
- exposure to certain medications or chemicals
Other risk factors for miscarriage include obesity and uncontrolled diabetes. If you are overweight or have diabetes, talk with your doctor about ways to stay healthy while pregnant.
Talk with your obstetrician about any medications or supplements that you may be taking to see if they are safe to take while pregnant.
In some cases, factors associated with blood type can put you at risk for miscarriage. Rh factor refers to a certain type of antigen (protein) that exists on the surface of blood cells. People with this antigen are considered Rh positive, and those without it are considered Rh negative. This can cause problems if you are Rh negative and your developing child is Rh positive. If blood from the fetus mixes with your own (which is common), your body may think it is having an allergic reaction, and in turn create antibodies to attack the Rh antigens in your baby’s blood (APA, 2006).
Along with a pelvic exam, a fetal ultrasound will be performed to monitor the heartbeat and development of the fetus. The test will also be used to determine the amount of bleeding. Blood tests will be performed to check for hormone levels, blood loss, and any infections.
You might have a non-stress test (NST), which tracks the fetal heart rate and timing and strength of your contractions.
Your doctor might want you to follow certain guidelines to reduce the risk of a completed miscarriage. Bed rest or reduced activity may be suggested, as well as avoiding sexual intercourse. After blood test results come back, your doctor may want to administer progesterone, a female hormone that supports pregnancy. If you are Rh negative your doctor will administer the Rho(D) immune globulin, which stops your body from making antibodies against the blood of your fetus.
There is no definitive way to prevent a miscarriage, but certain behaviors can help support a healthy pregnancy, including:
- minimizing consumption of caffeine
- abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs
- maintaining regular checkups
- avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals or harsh cleaning solutions
- promptly treating any infections that occur