Miscarriage: Types, Causes & Symptoms

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A miscarriage is often referred to as a spontaneous loss of pregnancy before a woman reaches week 20. Normally a miscarriage happens from natural causes and can be due to the baby not developing correctly.

Sometimes this could also be related to a medical issue that is found in the mother, but most often a definite cause is unknown. Most miscarriages occur before a woman reaches the 12th week of her pregnancy, and approximately 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies result in a miscarriage.

Some women may even miscarry without ever knowing that they are pregnant in the first place. It has also been shown that pregnancies that were created chemically or artificially, like with in-vitro fertilization, have a greater chance of miscarrying than a natural pregnancy.

1. What causes a miscarriage

Although the cause of most miscarriages remains unknown, there are some things that can increase a woman’s chances of having one:

  • Infections early on in a pregnancy
  • Being exposed to environmental toxins
  • Issues with hormones, chromosomes or genes
  • Problems with the uterus or cervix
  • Lifestyle issues, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs
  • Malnutrition and other nutritional issues
  • Obesity
  • Medical conditions of the mother – heart disease or diabetes
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Age
  • Trauma (emotional, physical or emotional)


If you have experienced multiple miscarriages, you may want to review the medical history of both your and your partner’s family tree. There may be a history of miscarriages that has been passed down throughout the years.

2. Signs of a Miscarriage

Most often, having a miscarriage is more of a process that a woman goes through rather than a single event. There are actually many different types of a miscarriage and it is important that you understand the different symptoms that go along with each.

  • Threatened miscarriage
    Symptoms – bleeding, cramping, backache
  • Complete
    Embryo/Fetus has completely exited the uterus
  • Missed miscarriage
    Symptoms – usually is not detected until there is a fetal heartbeat is not detected
  • Recurrent miscarriage
    Symptoms – three or more consecutive miscarriage during the first trimester
  • Blighted ovum
    When the egg attaches but fails to grow
  • Ectopic Pregnancy
    When the egg implants outside of the uterus
  • Molar Pregnancy
    Genetic issues during fertilization – abnormal tissue growth in fetus


3. Symptoms of a Miscarriage

There are many signs or symptoms that you may have that when you experience a miscarriage:

  • Spotting or bleeding vaginally
    Pink, red or brown are the typical colors that the blood will be discharged
  • Fluid or tissue discharge through the vagina
  • Pain in the back or abdomen
  • Cramps

It is important that you talk to your doctor immediately if you are pregnant and experiencing any of these symptoms. Many women go straight to the emergency room if they ever see any of these signs.


4. Can Miscarriage be prevented?

There really is little that can be done to prevent a miscarriage entirely. Most often they are a natural occurrence and there is really no way to know exactly what caused them. However, there are some things that you can do to help improve your chances of avoiding a miscarriage:

  • Exercise
  • Eat right
  • Take a prenatal vitamin
  • Avoid smoking (including second hand smoke), alcohol and drugs
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid stress
  • Correct any medical conditions that you already have
  • Limit your caffeine intake
  • Do not participate in full contact sports


5. Conclusion

If you experience a miscarriage, it is important that your healthcare provider works to prevent infection, stop any bleeding that may occur and remove all fetal tissue in order to promote the health of the mother. There are multiple treatments that may occur depending on the type and stage of the miscarriage. These treatments can range from medication to surgery.


Once a miscarriage has occurred, you may find that it takes longer to heal from the emotional and psychological toll that it takes on you rather than the physical. If you are having issues coping with your loss, be sure to talk to someone about it whether it is a close loved one or a hotline.

Some women have found that they need medical help to control the symptoms of depression and distress that they are feeling. When you do feel as though you are ready to try again, be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure that you are physically healthy and to learn the steps to avoid a miscarriage in the future.

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Dr. Karen Leham, MD

Dr. Karen Leham is double board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and in Reproductive Endocronology and Infertility. Dr. Leham completed her residency at Loyola University, followed by a fellowship at UCLA.