Placental Abruption

Placental Abruption

During pregnancy, an unborn baby receives blood containing oxygen and nutrients via the umbilical cord, which forms an attachment to the uterus, or womb, through the placenta. The placenta allows the pregnant woman to supply her baby with all it requires to grow and develop.

Placental abruption is where the placenta separates partially or fully from the wall of the uterus, thereby disrupting this supply of blood and nutrient to the unborn baby. Placental abruption affects about 1% of all pregnant woman.

Types of Placental Abruption

Broadly speaking, there are two type of placental abruptions:

  1. Sudden or Acute Placental Abruption

Placental abruption may occur suddenly during a normal pregnancy. When this occurs, it typically happens in the last few weeks of pregnancy. The pregnant woman may experience:

  • vaginal bleeding;
  • pain or tenderness in the abdomen;
  • back pain;
  • contractions of the uterus, frequent contractions or a feeling of a constant contraction;
  • changes in the unborn baby’s heart rate.

It is worth noting that while vaginal bleeding is a classic sign of a placental abruption, vaginal bleeding is not experienced by all pregnant women who suffer abruption as the blood may be trapped within the uterus.

  1. Chronic Abruption

In some cases, placental abruption may develop slowly, with smaller amounts of blood loss between the placenta and wall of the uterus. This is known as a chronic abruption.  Chronic abruption can occur any time after 20 weeks of pregnancy. During a chronic abruption, a pregnant woman may experience light vaginal bleeding that happens on and off. There also may be signs on ultrasound that the amount of amniotic fluid is low or that the baby is not growing as expected. These signs must be carefully monitored by your health care provider.

When a placental abruption occurs, it is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening to both the pregnant woman and her unborn baby. For these reasons, it is important that all signs and symptoms of potential placental abruption are closely monitored and urgent medical attention provided when needed.

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