How to Recognize Signs of a Miscarriage in Early Pregnancy

By Dr. Susan Jewell
pregnancy image by Dor Sela from

Miscarriage is a pregnancy that spontaneously aborts or terminates within the first 20 weeks of gestation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that miscarriage occurs in 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies, with most occurring within the first 13 weeks. Vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of miscarriage, but there are other signs that could indicate a loss of pregnancy. Your doctor can guide you through this difficult process.

Look for signs of vaginal bleeding or spotting (the color could be red, pink, or light or dark brown) during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Bleeding indicates a threatened miscarriage, a warning sign that your pregnancy may be at an increased risk of termination. Most women who have vaginal spotting or bleeding during early pregnancy have healthy babies, but some will have a miscarriage. Your doctor may order blood tests or an ultrasound. Close examination by a physician could reveal a widened or thinned-out cervix, another indicator of miscarriage.

Feel mild to severe abdominal cramps and lower back pain in addition to vaginal bleeding. These symptoms could indicate an incomplete miscarriage or inevitable abortion, which is the loss of the fetus but the uterine contents are retained inside the mother's body. The risk of having a miscarriage is inevitable when there is a rupture of the membranes or premature dilation of the cervix before the fetus has fully developed.

Experience heavy vaginal bleeding as well as cramping and, possibly, a gush of fluid from your vagina and the passing of fetal tissue. These symptoms could indicate a completed miscarriage with the breaking of the amniotic sac that surrounds the fetus. Other symptoms are blood clots as well as loss of tender, swelling breasts and nausea caused by morning sickness. In most cases, bleeding will resolve quickly, as will any pain or cramping. A completed miscarriage can be confirmed by an ultrasound. Dilation and curettage (D&C) surgery may be needed to gently remove tissue from the lining of the uterus.

About the Author

Health expert and network TV/radio/Internet host, Dr. Susan Jewell has appeared on CBS, Fox News, ABC and NBC. She is a health blogger and producer, and currently produces several webisode/TV series on "how-tos on health and living green." Dr. Jewell trained in clinical research medicine in cancer and AIDS/HIV at NIH and UCLA.