What is a Threatened Miscarriage? (and Why We Don’t Call it That)

What is a Threatened Miscarriage? (and Why We Don’t Call it That)

“Threatened miscarriage” often means bleeding during pregnancy. Here’s what it means to have a threatened abortion, and why the term needs to change.
Many women each year are diagnosed with “threatened miscarriage” during pregnancy, but in reality, many of these “threatened miscarriages” result in full-term pregnancies with healthy babies.

We spoke with embryologist and fertility expert, Navya Muralidhar, to about what a threatened miscarriage means for you and your pregnancy.

Disclaimer: Throughout this article, we’ll use the terms “threatened miscarriage” and “threatened abortion” to help other people find this article and find the information they’re after. We may also discuss some upsetting topics as well, such as pregnancy loss.

If you’re at all concerned about your or your baby’s health, visit a doctor.

In this article: 📝

  • What is the threatened miscarriage meaning?
  • What happens in threatened abortion?
  • How is threatened miscarriage diagnosed?
  • How long will a threatened miscarriage last?
  • Does a threatened miscarriage mean I will miscarry?
  • How do I deal with a threatened miscarriage?

What is the threatened miscarriage meaning?

“Threatened miscarriage” is the medical term often used to describe vaginal bleeding during pregnancy while the pregnancy continues.

But we believe this is an unhelpful label.

Why? Because the majority of women diagnosed with threatened miscarriage will go on to have healthy pregnancies ‒ there are many more threatened miscarriage success stories than not.

And while considered “abnormal”, the pregnancy bleeding that leads to this diagnosis doesn’t always mean there’s a serious problem.

Of course, sadly, bleeding in pregnancy sometimes is a sign of pregnancy loss.

And the pain of this experience should be discussed more openly.

But using an intimidating term like “threatened miscarriage” to describe all pregnancy bleeding can cause needless anxiety for women who aren’t seriously at risk of losing their babies.

That’s why we feel that “threatened miscarriage” could be more helpfully and accurately called pregnancy bleeding.

(Take a look at our #RenamingRevolution Glossary for other outdated terms related to fertility and motherhood that we want to see changed.)

But, needless to say, if you do experience any bleeding during pregnancy, it’s best to make an appointment with your healthcare practitioner to get it checked out.

So let’s explore pregnancy bleeding further and find out how you might be diagnosed with a threatened miscarriage.

What happens in threatened abortion?

Did you know that about 20% of all mamas-to-be experience vaginal bleeding in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy?

This can range from mild spotting to a heavier flow with clots, along with period-pain-like cramps at the same time ‒ this is known in the medical community as a “threatened miscarriage” or “threatened abortion”.

If you report the bleeding to your healthcare provider, they might decide to carry out some tests (more on that later).

And if they find that the embryo in your uterus is alive and well, they may diagnose you with a “threatened miscarriage”.

As we’ve seen, not the most helpful term, mainly as your chances of having a healthy pregnancy are still high ‒ many of our mamas on Peanut have shared their threatened miscarriage success stories that may bring some comfort.

Can you pass clots and not miscarry?

What if you have a threatened miscarriage with blood clots?

Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will result in a pregnancy loss.

While passing clots during pregnancy bleeding is often a sign of pregnancy loss, it’s not always the case.

There’s a chance it could be a subchorionic hemorrhage or inflammation of the cervix, which can still result in a healthy pregnancy.

However, in a threatened miscarriage, blood clots can also be an indicator of an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy outside the uterus) or a molar pregnancy, both of which usually result in pregnancy loss.

Where does the blood come from in a threatened miscarriage?

It depends on the amount of pregnancy bleeding.

Most blood from a threatened miscarriage is from the lining of the womb or some damage done to the cervix.

What causes threatened miscarriage in early pregnancy?

There are lots of things that can cause vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy ‒ or a threatened miscarriage.

These can be mild issues that will clear up on their own.

But, in more serious cases, bleeding can also be a sign of pregnancy loss.

Common causes of mild spotting include:

  • Increased blood flow to your cervix, which can make it bleed more easily (after sex, for example)
  • Implantation bleeding
  • Bleeding next to the amniotic sac (the membrane holding your growing baby). This is sometimes called a subchorionic hematoma
  • Urine or vaginal infection

And sometimes, bleeding from a threatened miscarriage may be a sign of pregnancy loss, including:

  • Ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus)
  • Molar pregnancy
  • Miscarriage (which can be classified medically as “anembryonic” or “early fetal death”)

Get in touch with your healthcare practitioner if you experience pregnancy bleeding, a threatened miscarriage, or any other unusual symptoms that concern you.

What are signs of a threatened miscarriage?

There are essentially two signs of a threatened miscarriage:

  • Pregnancy bleeding in the first 20 weeks.
  • There may also be some cramps, similar to period pains.

But not all pregnancy bleeding necessarily means a pregnancy loss ‒ a “threatened” miscarriage is not a miscarriage.

How is threatened miscarriage diagnosed?

Once you’ve reported your threatened miscarriage, your healthcare practitioner may use several different tests to check on the progress of your pregnancy:

  • Pelvic exam. Your practitioner will feel the opening of the cervix. If it’s closed, that’s a sign that your pregnancy is continuing normally ‒ and they’ll diagnose you with a “threatened miscarriage”. If it’s dilated, you may be having a miscarriage (sometimes called an “inevitable miscarriage” – where pregnancy loss has already begun and can’t be stopped).
  • Blood tests. These test the amount of the pregnancy hormone hCG in your bloodstream. You will usually have several tests over several days to see if your hCG levels are rising or falling. It’s normal for them to increase rapidly in early pregnancy, so if they’re falling that could point to a problem.
  • Ultrasound scan. During a threatened miscarriage ultrasound, if your baby’s heartbeat is detected, then this could be the point that you’re officially diagnosed with a “threatened miscarriage” (a continuing pregnancy with vaginal bleeding). In fact, when a heartbeat is found, you have an 85% ‒ 97% chance that you will carry your baby to term.
  • Endometrium thickness. The endometrium thickness is also checked during an ultrasound sound. A very thin endometrium can indicate a complete miscarriage.

If these tests reveal that your pregnancy is still progressing normally and doesn’t show a cause for the threatened miscarriage, your practitioner might carry out further tests.

For example, they might do a urine test to check for a urine infection or take vaginal swabs to check for a vaginal infection.

But sometimes, it’s not possible to work out why the bleeding has occurred.

How long will a threatened miscarriage last?

So if you’ve been diagnosed with a threatened abortion, how long does a threatened miscarriage last?

Well, it depends on the results of the threatened miscarriage diagnostic tests.

If, for example, your pregnancy bleeding is the result of a vaginal infection, it could take 3-7 days to stop bleeding while your body heals.

Generally speaking, most of our Peanut mamas who have experienced threatened miscarriages have said that their bleeding stopped within a few days or a couple of weeks.

Does a threatened miscarriage mean I will miscarry?

No, being diagnosed with a threatened miscarriage doesn’t mean that you will experience a pregnancy loss.

There are so many threatened miscarriage success stories out there (a lot of them on Peanut), and more mamas who have experienced pregnancy bleeding have gone on to have healthy babies.

This is especially true if you have a threatened miscarriage with heartbeat ‒ at that point, you have between 85% ‒ 97% chance of carrying a healthy baby to full-term.

Can you survive threatened miscarriage?

Yes, both you and baby can survive a threatened miscarriage ‒ it rarely means your pregnancy will result in loss.

That’s one of the reasons why we’re fighting against the use of the terms “threatened miscarriage” or “threatened abortion” ‒ they’re such finite phrases for something which doesn’t always mean the worst.

What are the chances of surviving a threatened miscarriage?

If you are diagnosed with a threatened miscarriage, it depends on whether baby’s heartbeat can be detected as to their odds of surviving to full-term.

If baby’s heartbeat is detected, their chances of survival are around 85-97%.

If baby’s heartbeat isn’t detected, the chances can range from 50-80%.

Can you have heavy bleeding and not miscarry?

Yes, you can experience heavy pregnancy bleeding without a pregnancy loss.

While heavier pregnancy bleeding may be cause for concern, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having an “inevitable miscarriage”.

As we’ve said, there are many more threatened miscarriage success stories than horror stories, even with heavy pregnancy bleeding.

But, if you’re experiencing any pregnancy bleeding at all, at any point in your pregnancy, speak with your doctor.

Can threatened miscarriage cause birth defects?

Sometimes, yes, a threatened miscarriage can result in a birth difference (or birth defect, but that’s not a term we like), but it’s not a guarantee.

There are very few studies done on the link between threatened miscarriages and birth differences ‒ something that needs to change, considering how many women experience bleeding at some point in their pregnancy.

However, one study from 1994 in Shanghai showed that, out of 1,013 pregnancies that resulted in birth differences, women who had threatened abortions had a 50% higher risk of having a baby with birth differences.

These birth differences ranged from issues with baby’s heart to limb and genital abnormalities.

Another, more recent study from 2012 with 89 women in Saudi Arabia who experienced threatened miscarriages suggested that threatened abortions do increase the risk of “adverse pregnancy outcome”.

However, the “adverse” pregnancy outcomes included common birth experiences, such as low birth weight, c-section delivery, and preterm delivery.

But both of these studies are very small ‒ we can’t definitively say that there is a link between threatened miscarriages and birth differences.

How do I deal with a threatened miscarriage?

We get it.

Seeing pregnancy bleeding and being told you have a threatened miscarriage is scary.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to ‘treat’ a threatened miscarriage.

Your doctor might recommend taking time off to rest, but if you need a distraction or to hear some more threatened miscarriage success stories, Peanut is here for you.

🤍 Some more articles that might help:
What Does Implantation Bleeding Look Like?
What to Know About Stress While Pregnant
What Does a Miscarriage Look Like?
SPD in Pregnancy: Key Info
Pregnancy After Loss: How to Cope With the Anxiety
Meghan Markle, You’re Not Alone - Here’s Why
Pregnancy After Loss: How to Cope With the Anxiety
A Letter to Chrissy Teigen, From a Mama Who Had a Miscarriage
To the Woman Who Just Had a Miscarriage
Pregnancy After Miscarriage: Everything You Need to Know
What to Say to Someone Who Had a Miscarriage
Beautiful Rainbow Baby Quotes

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