Anyone who experiences a miscarriage knows how devastating it is. An early miscarriage, so soon after finding out and possibly sharing your happy news can almost seem like a betrayal. You may feel as though your body failed you or that nature is unbearably cruel.
If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, you probably know the statistics; one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, the majority (85%) occur in the first trimester and are known as early miscarriage. A late miscarriage is less common and occurs any time after the 13th week of gestation but before the 24th week.
Determining the Reasons Behind Early Miscarriage
There are many reasons for early miscarriage, however the cause isn’t always identified. Rarely is a miscarriage the result of something you did or didn’t do. As a sad fact of life, miscarriage is most often unavoidable, although some women are at greater risk for miscarrying their pregnancy due to age or underlying health conditions.
Some women experience recurrent miscarriage. This occurs when a woman has three consecutive miscarriages. At that point the couple should begin seeking fertility tests. There could be a treatable reason for recurrent miscarriage, and in vitro fertilization (IVF) or certain medications could offer a better chance for a successful full-term pregnancy.
Common Causes and Forms of Early Miscarriage
Problems with the fetus and its development most often end in early miscarriage. Here are the three main causes of early miscarriage.
- Chemical Pregnancy: A chemical pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg fails to implant in the uterus. While the embryo fails to implant and develop, the presence of HCG, also known as the pregnancy hormone, is detectable in a blood or urine pregnancy test. An ultrasound will fail to detect a developing embryo as the embryo doesn’t develop. Due to an undeveloped embryo the symptoms of miscarriage such as abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding are not usually severe.
- Chromosomal Abnormalities: This is the most common cause of early miscarriage. Nearly all people have 23 pairs of chromosomes which determine certain traits and characteristics. A normal fertilized egg (or zygote) has 23 pairs of chromosomes which allow the fertilized egg to become a healthy embryo and eventually a fetus at about eight weeks gestation. If the embryo has fewer chromosomes, that’s considered a chromosomal abnormality, making it vulnerable to early miscarriage. One example of a chromosomal abnormality resulting in miscarriage is a blighted ovum. The fertilized egg doesn’t develop into a healthy embryo, causing the loss of the pregnancy often before it’s even detected. There are also instances where the number of chromosomes is off. Instead of 46 (23 pair) the embryo may contain one extra chromosome (Trisomy), one less chromosome (Monosomy), or one pair of chromosomes less (Monosomy). These defects almost always end in early miscarriage.
- Genetic Problems: In the presence of 46 chromosomes in an embryo, there can still be genetic issues within the chromosomes that can result in a miscarriage. These genetic factors are poorly studied and understood and testing is often not available. The DNA sequence is often problematic with possible multiple genetic mutations in crucial genes limiting the development of a healthy fetus and pregnancy.
- Placental Problems: Another frequent cause of early miscarriage is a problem with the placenta. The placenta is an organ which develops for the sole purpose of providing the developing fetus with oxygen and nutrition, removing waste, sustaining the pregnancy through hormonal secretions, and protecting the developing fetus from infection by passing the mother’s antibodies on. If the placenta fails to develop properly, it can’t do its job. The fetus succumbs to infection, toxins or fails to thrive.
What Doesn’t Cause Miscarriage
There is a lot of misinformation surrounding miscarriage. Some of the false information has its roots in old wives’ tales or in misunderstandings, but rest assured science recognizes none of these misconceptions.
- Eating food that’s too spicy
- Air travel
- Sexual intercourse
- Bike riding
- Heavy lifting
- Experiencing a shock or fright
Lifestyle and Environmental Risks
Many of the environmental and lifestyle conditions that have a role in compromising fertility may also increase your chance of early miscarriage. These include:
- Heavy metals, which include lead, mercury and nickel. They are commonly and increasingly found in some types of seafood, other foods, jewelry and even drinking water.
- Pesticides and chemicals used to control pests in gardens, on farms (be aware if you live in a rural area.) and in your home.
- Tobacco products you smoke yourself or take in second hand. Vaping also increases your risk for miscarriage.
- Inhaled anesthesia such as nitrous oxide
- Organic solvents which vaporize at room temperature. Dry cleaning products, stains and varnishes and compounds used to dissolve plastics are examples of these dangerous substances.
- Radiation above safe limits.
- Heavy alcohol use
- Poor diet or malnutrition
Care and Compassion
Whenever the loss occurs, it is tragic. It is the end of a life imagined and hoped for. It may take a while to heal emotionally from this loss, no matter how early in your pregnancy. And miscarriage impacts you, your partner and your family. Now is the time to practice self-care and take others up on their offers of help.
For more on recurrent early miscarriage or if you suspect your miscarriage was due to fertility issues, contact our office. The compassionate team at LA IVF cares about our patients. We’ll help you realize your dream of a healthy, successful pregnancy.