Avoid Sepsis After Miscarriage

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Having a miscarriage is often a devastating event. For about 3 percent of women, the experience becomes even more distressing when tissue that was not fully expelled by the uterus leads to an infection. In the worst cases, the infection will become septic, causing what is known as a septic miscarriage or septic abortion. Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition, so it's critical to know the symptoms and get medical treatment as soon as possible.

Causes

Infections are a risk after any miscarriage or non-therapeutic abortion (one that a woman chooses to undergo for non-medical reasons). Gynecological and obstetric surgeries can also put a woman at risk of infection.

When tissue from pregnancy remains in the uterus after a miscarriage or abortion, it can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria, including:

  • E. Coli
  • Prevotella
  • Bacteroides
  • C. trachomatis
  • Group B streptococci
  • Enterobacteriaceae

Infections with these bacteria can be progressive, meaning that they begin in the uterus and, if left untreated, can progress to the bloodstream and infect your entire system, leading to septic shock. With septic shock, the blood pressure drops dangerously low, starving the organs of their blood supply, which can ultimately result in organ failure.

You can reduce the risk of infection after a miscarriage by avoiding sexual intercourse, swimming in pools, douching, and using tampons for the amount of time recommended by your physician.

According to a report presented at the American Society of Anesthesiologists in 2012, women with congestive heart failure, liver disease, diabetes, or lupus have a higher risk of developing infections after pregnancy or a miscarriage. Women who undergo invasive procedures to treat infertility or during pregnancy may also have an increased risk of uterine infection.

Symptoms

Bacterial infections can spread and become septic quickly, so if you have any of the following symptoms after a miscarriage, contact your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room:

  • Prolonged bleeding and cramping (longer than about two weeks)
  • Fever over 100.4 degrees
  • Chills
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • A tender uterus
  • Unusual drowsiness

Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of infection after a miscarriage, your doctor will perform an ultrasound to look for retained tissue in the uterus. An MRI or CT scan can also be used for this reason. He will check your blood pressure (which drops during sepsis), your heart rate (which goes up), and your oxygen saturation levels (which decrease).

Your physician will also do blood tests that measure certain factors indicating the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream. These indicators include:

  • A high white blood cell count
  • Immature white blood cells in the circulation
  • Elevated plasma C-reactive protein
  • Elevated procalcitonin (PCT)
  • High creatinine levels
  • Low platelet levels
  • High bilirubin levels
  • High lactate levels

Sometimes, women with septic miscarriage have a history of ob/gyn surgery or non-therapeutic abortion. It's important that you disclose all relevant information; remember that the vast majority of physicians are compassionate and nonjudgmental.

Treatment

If your doctor confirms that you have tissue remaining in your uterus, he will perform a surgical procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C) in which the cervix is dilated and the tissue removed with a tool called a curette (or in some cases, a vacuum-like device).

If your infection has become septic, urgent treatment is necessary and you will be sent to the hospital and monitored closely. You'll be given intravenous fluids to increase blood volume and blood pressure as well as intravenous broad-spectrum antibiotics, which kill a wide variety of bacteria. Your blood will be cultured in order to identify the specific bacteria causing the infection. The bacteria can take a few days to grow in the culture medium. Once it's identified, you will be taken off the broad-spectrum antibiotics and given one that is tailored to the specific bacteria. Once your condition has stabilized, you will be sent home and will likely need to take oral antibiotics for a few days or weeks.

In rare cases, the infection in the uterus cannot be cured, and a hysterectomy is needed to save the life of the patient. In most cases, however, an infection after a miscarriage, even if it turns septic, is curable and is unlikely to affect future pregnancies.

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