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Health Answers: What are the symptoms and risk factors of miscarriage?

Q. What are the symptoms and risk factors of miscarriage?

A. Miscarriages are more common than many people realize, because they usually occur very early, before a woman realizes she is pregnant. The March of Dimes estimates that as many as 40 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, but only about 10 to 15 percent of recognized pregnancies do. Marianne Muchura, an OB/GYN physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, explains that these early miscarriages are often the result of chromosomal abnormalities that prevent the fetus from developing.

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Common signs of a miscarriage are light to heavy vaginal bleeding accompanied by lower abdominal pain and cramping. However, Muchura says,“many women don’t even know they’re having a miscarriage if it’s before six weeks,” and even later miscarriages may not cause symptoms. Sometimes, women first suspect something is wrong when pregnancy symptoms such as breast tenderness disappear. Because women can also experience spotting during a normal pregnancy, Muchura recommends that patients call a doctor if they suspect a miscarriage, since the signs are not always clear.

Miscarriage occurs more often as women age, and has also been linked to higher paternal age. Some lifestyle factors are also linked to miscarriage, including smoking, drinking more than three servings of alcohol per week, using illicit drugs, and being under or over a normal weight. Muchura says that there’s no evidence that stress or physical activity can cause a miscarriage. While a single miscarriage is common, couples who experience repeated miscarriages should be evaluated for an underlying health problem.

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