Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy before 24 weeks. Up to a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, mostly before week 12. Some are caused by problems with chromosomes or the development of the baby, but a lot of the time, there’s no clear cause. The body should return to normal relatively soon after a miscarriage, but it can be a very emotionally difficult experience.

Symptoms of a miscarriage

Some of the most common symptom of miscarriage include:

  • Bleeding from the vagina

  • Discharge of fluids, blood clots or tissue from the vagina

  • Period-like cramps in the stomach

  • Pain around the vagina 

  • Pain in the lower back that usually begins after the bleeding starts

Vaginal bleeding can vary from brownish discharge to heavy bleeding and bright red blood. The bleeding might come and go over the next few days.

What causes miscarriage?

It’s unlikely that miscarriage is caused by anything you do and there can be no clear explanation as to why it happens. Most miscarriages are caused by abnormal chromosomes in the baby but it can also be caused by genetic or development problems. 

Issues with the placenta or infections of the uterus can also cause a miscarriage, and so can structural abnormalities of the uterus and weakness of the cervix (the neck of the womb). Other medical problems, such as thyroid abnormalities, obesity and older age can also be a cause of pregnancy loss.

An ectopic pregnancy, when the egg implants and grows outside the uterus, always causes a miscarriage, as it’s impossible for the body to carry out a pregnancy anywhere other than inside the uterus.

Although the cause of a miscarriage is often never found, there are a few tips that can help reduce the risk and contribute towards a healthy pregnancy.

Diagnosis and treatment

A vaginal ultrasound is used to look for the presence of a heartbeat. Sometimes, in very early pregnancy, there needs to be a slight delay to carrying this out, or blood tests may be arranged, as the pregnancy would be too small to visualise. 

Some miscarriages may not require any treatment at all. Sometimes, your body might need help removing  any remaining tissue. In this case, a doctor might prescribe tablets or recommend a short surgical procedure.

If you’ve had 3 or more miscarriages, a doctor might offer further investigation to try and identify the cause. Blood tests for you, and sometimes your partner, can look for blood clotting problems and genetic issues that may be contributing towards the miscarriages. Scans can also identify structural abnormalities within the womb. If a miscarriage occurs late in pregnancy, and a doctor thinks it might be due to weakness in the cervix (the neck of the womb), you might be offered frequent scans in subsequent pregnancies.

What can I do myself if I've had a miscarriage?

It can be hard to know whether you’ve actually had a miscarriage. If you experience any bleeding in pregnancy then it is important to contact your healthcare provider.  

Unfortunately, if a miscarriage is diagnosed, there’s no way to stop it and it has to run its course. 

Your body normally heals quickly after a miscarriage. Your periods should return within 8 weeks although they may be irregular at first. Some people still don’t feel emotionally ready to try for another pregnancy by this point so it’s important to use contraception.

You may need time to grieve and cope with what’s happened. It can help to talk to friends, family, a therapist or psychologist who can help you deal with your feelings.

If you’re interested in trying for another pregnancy, it’s worth considering the following:

  • Take folic acid, ideally before conception

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking and drugs

  • Try to lose weight if you’re overweight

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any medications you take, ideally before conception.

 If you have a chronic disease, such as diabetes, talk to a doctor during or before pregnancy, as there may be an extra risk of miscarriage.

When should I seek medical help?

If you experience any bleeding in pregnancy then it is important to contact your healthcare provider. There are other causes of bleeding other than a miscarriage but it is important to be assessed.

Less commonly, there may be a problem that needs urgent medical care. An ectopic pregnancy is a serious complication that’s caused when a fertilised egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. This can cause abdominal pain, often on one side, bleeding, pain in the tip of your shoulder, diarrhoea and vomiting, fainting and lightheadedness and discomfort when passing urine or stools. If you have these symptoms, call 999 or go to A&E right away.

How Livi can help

If you think you may have suffered a miscarriage and need advice and information, we can help. A doctor will make an individual assessment, based on your symptoms and the results of a consultation. You may also be referred for further treatment – a miscarriage can need a physical examination.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi