Placental Abruption: When the Placenta Separates

Placental Abruption: When the Placenta Separates

In normal pregnancies, the placenta is attached to the uterus. Sometimes it separates. This is called placenta abruption and it requires immediate medical attention.

The placenta is your unborn baby’s lifeline. Your baby receives nourishment and gets rid of waste through the placenta. This essential organ is tethered to the uterine wall, and links baby to mother until delivery. But in about 1 percent of pregnancies, the placenta detaches from the uterus too early. This is called placental abruption (or aruptio placentae).

Why is placental abruption dangerous?

If the placenta separates from the uterus too early, the unborn baby may not be able to get nutrients and oxygen. Placental abruption may also cause severe vaginal bleeding. This can be very dangerous for both mom and baby.

Placental abruption may lead to:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Poor growth
  • Stillbirth

What are the symptoms?

The most common sign of placental abruption is vaginal bleeding. Contact your doctor right away if you have vaginal bleeding during your pregnancy, particularly in the second half of pregnancy. Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the abdomen over the uterus
  • Contractions
  • Irregular heart rate in the unborn baby

How is it diagnosed?

Placental abruption can occur at any time during pregnancy, but it is most often diagnosed during the third trimester.

This condition can be hard to diagnose. It can only truly be confirmed after birth, when doctors can closely examine the placenta. If placental abruption is suspected, your doctor can:

  • Perform an ultrasound
  • Do blood tests
  • Monitor the unborn baby
  • Evaluate your symptoms

How is it treated?

Placental abruption needs prompt medical care. Your treatment plan will depend on:

  • Whether the placental separation is partial or complete
  • Where the separation is located
  • How far along you are in your pregnancy

Partial separation. If your pregnancy is close to full-term, the baby will likely be delivered right away. Earlier in the pregnancy, the doctor may admit you to the hospital to closely monitor you and the fetus. The pregnancy will be prolonged as long as possible if both you and your unborn baby aren’t having any severe problems. In some cases, the fetus may need a blood transfusion or must be delivered prematurely.

Complete separation.In this case, the baby will need to be delivered right away. If the baby is stable and you are not bleeding too much, a vaginal birth may be an option. But in most cases, a cesarean section will be needed.

What causes placental abruption?

Experts do not know what causes placental abruption. But certain risk factors have been linked to it. They include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Cocaine use
  • High blood pressure
  • Abdominal injuries
  • Over age 35
  • Being pregnant with multiples
  • Amniotic fluid abnormality
  • Premature rupture of membranes (PROM)
  • Previous placental abruptions
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