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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Miscarriage


Alternate Names : Spontaneous Abortion, Complete Abortion

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

A miscarriage occurs when a woman is pregnant and her womb expels the fetal tissue. It results from natural causes within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

What is going on in the body?

A miscarriage takes place after the fetus and placenta stop growing. This makes pregnancy hormone levels fall. The following symptoms of pregnancy may no longer appear:

  • breast tenderness
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • A miscarriage starts when the womb begins to contract. This causes cramping and discomfort. It may also cause vaginal spotting or bleeding. A miscarriage is complete when the contents of the womb are expelled. When no fetal tissue remains, the cervix will close. The uterus will shrink in size. The bleeding will slow and then stop.

    What are the causes and risks of the condition?

    A fetus that fails to develop or is abnormal in some way is the most likely cause of a miscarriage that occurs in the first trimester of pregnancy.

    Miscarriages in the second trimester are most often caused by factors linked to the mother, such as:

  • an abnormal-shaped uterus
  • autoimmune disorders, in which the woman's body creates antibodies to its own tissue, including fetal tissue
  • bacterial infections, such as the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia
  • certain diseases and conditions, including diabetes or hypothyroidism
  • cervical incompetence, a condition in which the cervical opening from the womb does not stay closed through the whole pregnancy
  • cocaine use
  • drinking liquids, such as coffee, or eating foods, such as chocolate, that contain caffeine
  • exposure to pesticides, chemicals, or other toxins
  • noncancerous tumors in the uterus, which are also called fibroids
  • hormonal disorders, such as a low level of the female hormone progesterone
  • polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition in which abnormal hormone levels cause growths within the ovary
  • posttraumatic stress disorder, also called PTSD, which may occur after a major traumatic event
  • TORCH infections in the first trimester of pregnancy
  • Herbal remedies can cause birth defects as well as a miscarriage. The March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women avoid all of the following unless recommended by their doctors:

  • dietary supplements
  • over-the-counter medicines
  • prescription medicines


    Next section


    Miscarriage: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Eva Martin, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 09/14/01

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