Causes of Bleeding During Pregnancyby Teresa Shaw | July 21, 2008
There can be many causes for vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, which can range from mild to serious. However, as alarming as it might be to find that you are spotting or bleeding while you are pregnant, be advised that most women who bleed during pregnancy, primarily during the first trimester, go on to deliver healthy babies at term.
It's important to know the most common causes of vaginal bleeding during each stage of pregnancy so that you can know what to watch for and when to contact your health care provider.
First Trimester Bleeding or Spotting
Light vaginal bleeding experienced during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can occur due to a host of causes. The American Pregnancy Association reports that studies show that 20-30% of women experience some degree of bleeding in early pregnancy. Following are some of the causes for bleeding in the first trimester.
Implantation. When the fertilized egg implants into the lining of your uterus, it can cause some spotting. This usually occurs at about 10 to 14 days after fertilization, and is spottier and lighter in color than a normal menstrual period. Women sometimes do mistake this light bleeding for a period and don't realize that they're pregnant.
Miscarriage. Vaginal bleeding is the primary sign of miscarriage; however, bleeding doesn't necessarily mean that you're having a miscarriage. The American Pregnancy Association reports that about half of pregnant women who bleed do not have miscarriages. Approximately 15-20% of all pregnancies result in a miscarriage, most of which occur during the first 12 weeks. Up to 15% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Ectopic pregnancies. Ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg implant somewhere outside the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancies are less common than miscarriages, occurring in 1 of 60 pregnancies, the American Pregnancy Association reports.
Molar pregnancies. Molar pregnancy is the rare case of an abnormal mass (instead of a baby) forming inside the uterus after fertilization. It is also referred to as gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD). Signs include bleeding, unusually high hCG levels, and absent fetal heart tones.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that if you have slight vaginal bleeding that goes away within a day, tell your health care provider at your next visit. If you experience bleeding that lasts more than a day, contact your health care provider within the next 24 hours. Contact him or her immediately if you experience moderate to heavy vaginal bleeding; experience any amount of bleeding accompanied by abdominal pain, cramping, fever or chills; or pass tissue from your vagina.
Second or Third Trimester Bleeding or Spotting
During the third trimester, the cervix begins to thin out in preparation for preparation for labor. When this happens, the mucus plug that had been sealing the opening of the cervix is dislodged and you may notice a thick or stringy discharge, sometimes tinged with blood.
This "bloody show" is a normal sign of impending labor, and may occur up to a week or two before delivery. However, there are some other causes of bleeding that can be ore serious, including the following.
Again, vaginal bleeding is the primary sign of miscarriage. Although most common during the first trimester, there is still a risk for miscarriage in the second trimester.
Light bleeding in the second or third trimester may be a sign of preterm labor, especially if you are also experiencing regular contractions, a dull backache, or pelvic pressure.
Placenta previa or placental abruption.
Painless, bright red vaginal bleeding in the second or third trimester may be a sign of placenta previa, a serious problem where the placenta partly or completely covers the opening to the birth canal. Placental abruption is when the placenta begins to separate from the inner wall of the uterus before the baby is born. Bleeding may be slight to heavy, or in between, and is usually accompanied by abdominal pain.
Uterine rupture is a rare condition in which the uterus tears open along the scar line from a prior C-section. Vaginal bleeding, intense abdominal pain and abdominal tenderness may result. If this happens, either before or during labor, an emergency C-section is needed to prevent life-threatening complications.
Your health care provider should be contacted if you have any amount of vaginal bleeding in the second or third trimester. Most likely, you will need to be examined in the doctor's office or hospital. Call your doctor immediately if you have vaginal bleeding paired with pain, cramping, fever or chills, or contractions.
Bleeding during pregnancy can be worrisome. By understanding the most common causes of vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, you'll be prepared and know when it's wise to contact your health care provider.Teresa Shaw is a professional editor and freelance writer with a degree in English and journalism. She writes about motherhood, travel, and cooking, among other topics, for a variety of print and online markets. She enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, two cats, and dog.
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