As new mums, we want to protect our unborn child to the best of our abilities. One way to do it is by being informed of the possible complications that can occur in pregnancy. Mums-to-be should be on the lookout for symptoms pertaining to this fatal pregnancy complication. Learn about placental abruption and how to spot it here.
What is placental abruption?
We’ve been told that the placenta plays a very important role in our baby’s growth and development while inside our wombs. This temporary yet life-giving organ is attached to the uterus (either on the top or the side) and acts as a lifeline that gives nutrients and oxygen to your baby through the umbilical cord. It is also responsible for removing waste from your baby’s blood. Learn more about the placenta’s role here.
Typically, the placenta will detach itself from the uterine wall after giving birth. For this reason, mums still have to push the placenta out after the baby has been born, usually within an hour.
However, in some cases, the placenta detaches itself early, either completely or partially, decreasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients supplied to your baby and causing heavy bleeding in the mother. This is called placental abruption and is a serious pregnancy complication that requires immediate medical treatment.
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Placental abruption types
There are four different types of placental abruption, characterised by the symptoms the mother is experiencing, which at this point, is vaginal bleeding.
- Partial placental abruption – this occurs when the placenta does not completely detach from the uterine wall. The mum can experience light to moderate vaginal bleeding.
- Complete or total placental abruption – when the placenta is completely detached from the uterine wall. There is usually more vaginal bleeding associated with this type of abruption.
- Revealed placental abruptions – characterised by moderate to severe vaginal bleeding that you can see.
- Concealed placental abruptions – is the trickiest type of placental abruption as there is little or no visible vaginal bleeding. The blood is trapped between the placenta and uterine wall.
Placental abruption causes
What causes placental abruption? According to Cleveland Clinic, the cause of this condition if usually unknown, and it is hard to pinpoint. Some lifestyle choices or trauma to the pregnant woman’s abdomen can increase your risk for placental abruption.
Risk factors for placental abruption
Moreover, some factors may put a pregnant woman at higher risk for this complication, including:
- Trauma or injury to your uterus (like a car accident, fall or blow to the stomach).
- Previous placental abruption.
- Multiple gestations (twins or triplets).
- High blood pressure (hypertension), gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.
- If you are a smoker or have a history of drug use.
- Folic acid deficiency.
- Having a short umbilical cord.
- Mother’s age is 35 and older.
- The mother has uterine fibroids.
- Thrombophilia (a blood clotting disorder).
- Premature rupture of membranes (the water breaks before your baby is full-term).
- Rapid loss of the amniotic fluid.
Symptoms of placental abruption
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According to Cleveland Clinic, about 1 in 100 pregnancies experience placental abruption. This usually occurs in the third trimester, but it can happen any time after the 20th week of pregnancy up until the time of delivery.
Each person can have different symptoms of this fatal pregnancy complication, with the most common symptom of placental abruption being vaginal bleeding with cramping.
However, as mentioned earlier vaginal bleeding can vary and is not an indication of how much the placenta has detached. In the case of concealed placental abruptions, there is no visible bleeding because the blood is trapped between the placenta and uterine wall.
Meanwhile, pain from cramps can range from mild to strong and often begins without any warning.
Other signs to watch out for are the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Uterine contractions that are longer and more intense than average labour contractions
- Uterine tenderness
- Backache or back pain
- Decreased foetal movement
Some of these symptoms are similar to other pregnancy conditions, so it’s best to consult with your OB-gynaecologist for a diagnosis.
Sometimes, placental abruption can occur during labour, especially if the mother has high blood pressure or preeclampsia.
Effects of placental abruption
How long can a baby survive after placental abruption? Will it also put the mother’s health at risk?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, foetal death occurs in 15 per cent of severe cases of placental abruption. The survival of the baby following a placental abruption also depends on how severe it is and the baby’s foetal age. If the
This complication can be life-threatening for both the mother and her baby.
For a baby, placental abruption can lead to having a premature birth, low birth weight and growth problems. It can also cause brain injury in infants due to the lack of oxygen. In some cases, placental abruption can also lead to stillbirth.
Meanwhile, mothers who experience placental abruption can lead to anaemia or blood loss, blood clot, haemorrhage and kidney failure. If you lost a lot of blood due to the abruption, you may need to undergo a blood transfusion.
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Treatment and prevention
The treatment for placental abruption depends on how severe the detachment is and how far along you are in your pregnancy. In some cases, your doctor may just need to monitor you first. He will ask how much bleeding has occurred, where you feel the pain, how intense it is, when the symptoms started and check your blood pressure and baby’s heart rate and movement.
For mild cases, the doctor will advise you to rest until you give birth to your baby. Some doctors also give their patients corticosteroids to help speed up the development of the baby’s lungs and other organs in the body.
Sometimes, you may need to give birth right away via an emergency C-section, especially if you’ve lost a lot of blood or if your baby is in distress.
If the bleeding is uncontrollable, the doctors may need to remove your uterus by surgery (hysterectomy). A hysterectomy can prevent deadly bleeding and other problems in your body. However, it means that you can’t get pregnant again in the future.
How to prevent placental abruption
Early detection, close monitoring, and quick treatment can help reduce complications like placental abruption.
There is no surefire way to prevent oneself from having this condition. However, you can reduce your risks by doing the following:
- Not smoking or using drugs, especially when you are pregnant.
- Keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
- Taking prenatal vitamins such as folic acid.
- Keep diabetes under control.
- Take health and safety precautions like wearing a seat belt.
- Report any abdominal trauma to your healthcare provider.
If you are experiencing vaginal bleeding or other concerning symptoms during pregnancy, do not hesitate to consult your doctor about it.
Image source: iStock
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