10 Things You Didn't Know About Miscarriages

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miscarriage is a pregnancy loss that takes place within the first 20 weeks of gestation. if you're at risk of or are having a miscarriage, you likely have many questions, including how often miscarriages occur, what the common causes are, and how long a miscarriage lasts.

Firstly, miscarriages are common, with approximately 10% to 15% of known pregnancies ending in miscarriage. 50% of miscarriages are caused by chromosomal anomalies or other problems with the embryo or implantation. The vast majority of miscarriages, around 80%, happen within the first trimester (the first 12 weeks of pregnancy). It's a process that can be painful for the parent, both physically and emotionally.

Miscarriages last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, with bleeding typically lasting longer the farther along the pregnancy was. The following are 10 things that are important to know if you are having symptoms of a miscarriage or have been recently diagnosed with pregnancy loss.

Bleeding in Pregnancy Does Not Always Mean Miscarriage

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Miscarriages can be devastating regardless of the cause or when they occur during the pregnancy. In addition to abdominal cramping and passing tissue (the placenta and the gestational sac) through the vagina, one of the most common symptoms of miscarriage is vaginal bleeding. That said, bleeding in early pregnancy does not always mean miscarriage.

The only way to know for sure if your bleeding is from a miscarriage is through an evaluation with your doctor. If your doctor determines you are indeed experiencing a miscarriage, it's important to roughly measure how much you're bleeding.

If the blood is soaking through two maxi pads per hour for two consecutive hours, call your doctor right away. This may be a sign that you are hemorrhaging, and you may need a procedure called a dilation and curettage (​D&C) to stop the bleeding.

If you are not bleeding that heavily but are concerned that your bleeding seems to be persisting for too long—like if you have had heavy bleeding for more than two or three days—it is a good idea to see your doctor to rule out complications.

Diagnosis May Take up to a Week

Sometimes, doctors can diagnose a miscarriage before the symptoms actually begin. During early pregnancy, your doctor will use human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) tests to check for the pregnancy hormone hCG in your blood. If the hCG level is not doubling every two to three days in the first trimester, that is, unfortunately, a telltale sign of an impending miscarriage.

Even if you are having symptoms of a miscarriage, doctors often cannot confirm a miscarriage in a single day. 

You may need to have two blood tests two days apart to see if your hCG levels go up or down. Your doctor may also perform a pelvic exam and an ultrasound to determine whether the pregnancy is developing properly or not.

The Emergency Room Is Not Always Necessary

In the first trimester, a doctor can't do anything to stop a miscarriage that is already in progress, and as stated above, you may not be able to get a diagnosis right away.

Of course, seek out emergent medical attention if you are worried about any of the following situations:

  • An ectopic pregnancy
  • Extremely heavy bleeding (soaking a menstrual pad in under an hour)
  • Severe abdominal pain

Absent these concerns, the ER probably won't be able to do much for you, so you can call your regular doctor for care and advice.

An Ectopic Pregnancy Is Not Always a Medical Emergency

An ectopic pregnancy is when the embryo implants outside of the uterus. These pregnancies are not viable and pose a significant threat to the pregnant person if not treated in time. However, while an ectopic pregnancy is sometimes a medical emergency, as a ruptured ectopic pregnancy can be fatal, early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of rupture and internal bleeding.

Treatment options for ectopic pregnancy include surgery or medication to end the pregnancy. Alternatively, your doctor may monitor your hCG levels if it appears that the ectopic pregnancy is ending naturally.

It's Possible to Miscarry With No Symptoms

Sometimes, the baby stops growing and developing, but there are no outward signs of miscarriage like cramping, bleeding, or the passage of tissue. This is called a missed miscarriage.

With a missed miscarriage, the pregnancy loss is often discovered incidentally during a routine ultrasound or when the heartbeat fails to become audible on a handheld doppler by the start of the ​second trimester.

Once diagnosed with a missed miscarriage, treatment options include a natural miscarriage, which means waiting for the symptoms to begin and the fetal tissue to pass on its own. Other treatments include taking medication to speed up the process or having a surgery called dilation and curettage procedure (D&C).

A Miscarriage Can Take Several Days

Despite how it is often depicted in the media, a first-trimester miscarriage usually does not happen all at once. The fetus usually has already passed away by the time the physical symptoms of miscarriage appear, sometimes more than a week before. The miscarriage bleeding may begin as light spotting and then progress to a heavier flow with clots after a few days. You may have some level of bleeding for up to two weeks, although it should not remain heavy for that entire time.

All in all, the precise timing of how long a miscarriage lasts varies for each pregnant person, as it depends on multiple factors, such as when in the pregnancy the miscarriage occurs.

For instance, in one scenario, a pregnant person might start bleeding a few hours after getting the diagnosis and, in another scenario, the miscarriage process might not begin for several weeks, even if the pregnancy is not viable.

That said, research shows that you're most likely to start and finish bleeding within two weeks of the diagnosis.

It's also important to note that after a miscarriage diagnosis, a woman may opt to manage her miscarriage medically or surgically (for example, a D&C), and this also affects the duration of symptoms. For example, after a D&C to manage a miscarriage, a woman may experience light bleeding or mild discomfort, but not heavy bleeding or abdominal pain. If this happens, a woman should contact her doctor right away.

Cramping Is Normal

Severe pain and cramping with a miscarriage do not necessarily mean anything abnormal is going on. Many people describe an early miscarriage as being like a heavy menstrual period. For some, the reality is that the process involves more than just abdominal cramps. There can also be mild to severe lower back pain that interferes with your ability to go about normal daily activities.

Check with a doctor when you have severe cramping to be sure that ectopic pregnancy is ruled out, and perhaps to get a recommendation for a painkiller.

Fertility After Miscarriage Varies

It is not possible to predict when you will be fertile again after a miscarriage, but for many, it's very soon. Some people will resume ovulating in as little as two weeks after a miscarriage, whereas others may find themselves waiting up to three months before normal menstrual cycles resume. As with all matters, individual variation will occur. So it's a good idea to use protection until you are ready to get pregnant again.

You Can Usually Try Again Right Away

It used to be common for doctors to recommend waiting for several months or more before getting pregnant again after a miscarriage. However, barring individual medical circumstances, there is no physiological reason to delay trying to conceive following a miscarriage. In fact, research shows that pregnancy rates are higher among those that start trying in the first few months after the pregnancy loss.

Reasons for Miscarriage Are Not Always Clear

Studies show at close to 50% of miscarriages are due to chromosomal anomalies. However, the reasons for other miscarriages are not always clear. Sometimes even reputable sources will have conflicting information about what causes miscarriage. Frustratingly often, there are simply more questions than answers—and that can be hard to accept.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to mention that in addition to the physical symptoms of a miscarriage, like vaginal bleeding, it's common to experience emotional distress. If you are experiencing a miscarriage, instead of keeping your thoughts and feelings bottled up, ask your doctor if there is a support group in your town or a therapist you can see.

Privately talking to other people who have been through the same experience or seeking help from a healthcare professional who has experience working with people who have had a miscarriage may help you cope with the heartbreaking loss and feel less alone. Remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself the time, space, and grace you need to heal—physically and emotionally.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Early pregnancy loss.

  2. Sapra KJ, Joseph KS, Galea S, Bates LM, Louis GM, Ananth CV. Signs and Symptoms of Early Pregnancy Loss. Reprod Sci. 2017;24(4):502-513. doi:10.1177/1933719116654994

  3. Musik T, Grimm J, Juhasz-Böss I, Bäz E. Treatment options after a diagnosis of early miscarriage: expectant, medical, and surgical. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2021 ;118(46):789-794. doi:10.3238/arztebl.m2021.0346

  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Ectopic pregnancy.

  5. Serdinšek T, Reljič M, Kovač V. Medical management of first trimester missed miscarriage: the efficacy and complication rate. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2019;39(5):647-651. doi:10.1080/01443615.2018.1535577

  6. Schliep KC, Mitchell EM, Mumford SL, Radin RG, Zarek SM, Sjaarda L, Schisterman EF. Trying to conceive after an early pregnancy loss: an assessment on how long couples should wait. Obstet Gynecol. 2016;127(2):204-12. doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000001159

Additional Reading
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (February 2016). Dilation and Curettage.

  • American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (August 2015). Frequently Asked Questions: Early Pregnancy Loss.
  • American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (May 2015). Practice Bulletin: Early Pregnancy Loss.
  • American Pregnancy Association (August 2016).Miscarriage: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention.​​
  • Hillard, Paula Adams.The 5-Minute Obstetrics and Gynecology Consult. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008. Page 588.

By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.