Did I have a miscarriage?
How can you tell whether you have had a miscarriage?
— Bleeding at the wrong time?
Dear Bleeding at the wrong time?,
Ultimately, a previous positive pregnancy test is the only way to know for sure if you’ve had a miscarriage. The most common sign of a miscarriage is spotting or vaginal bleeding. Additionally, some people may also experience abdominal cramps and pass fluid or tissue from the vagina. Since there may be other explanations for your irregular bleeding, you may want to make an appointment with a health care provider.
So, how common is miscarriage? About 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies result in miscarriage, which is also known as spontaneous abortion. However, this number could be higher given that, in many early miscarriages, the person doesn’t know that they’re even pregnant. Miscarriage usually occurs before the twelfth week of pregnancy as a result of genetic or physical defects in the fetus. Other causes of miscarriage include infection, hormonal factors, or a physical condition in the mother such as diabetes or thyroid disease. It’s also key to know that one miscarriage doesn’t mean that later pregnancies will be unsuccessful. In fact, less than five percent of people have two miscarriages consecutively, and less than one percent have three or more in a row.
Furthermore, there could be another reason why you’re bleeding at an unexpected time. Other explanations for irregular vaginal bleeding include fluctuating hormone levels; a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or genital warts; a tumor, polyp, or fibroids in the reproductive system; cervical disorders; or an ectopic pregnancy. A health care provider will be able to determine the cause of your bleeding. In the case of a miscarriage, the clinician may perform a pelvic exam to make sure that all the products of the pregnancy have been expelled safely.
If it turns out the bleeding was in fact a miscarriage, it can also be wise to think about any emotional effects that you may experience. A miscarriage may also bring on mixed emotions ranging from relief to confusion to sadness or guilt, and the healing process may extend beyond the time it takes the physical aspects to resolve. In addition to leaning on friends and family members for support, you may find it helpful to talk with a mental health professional to help process any feelings you have around the experience.
Originally published May 01, 1994
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