pregnant woman receiving and ultrasound scan

What is Placental Abruption?

Placental abruption is a condition in which the placenta separates from the lining of the uterus before birth. Placental abruption occurs in around one per cent of pregnancies. Placental abruption can occur at any time after week 20, although it is most common during the final trimester.

Causes of placental abruption

The exact cause of placental abruption has not yet been identified. However, studies have linked placental abruption to the following risk factors:

  • Smoking
  • Cocaine use
  • Abdominal injury
  • High blood pressure
  • Bleeding during early pregnancy
  • Advanced maternal age

If you have experience placental abruption during a previous pregnancy, you have an increased risk of developing the condition again.

Placental abruption can be a serious condition for both mother and baby. There is an increased risk of premature birth, stillbirth and death within the first 28 days of life. If undiagnosed, a minor abruption could lead to fetal growth problems as the baby is starved of oxygen and nutrients.

Symptoms of placental abruption

Common symptoms of this condition include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Frequent contractions
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Reduced fetal movements

If you are experiencing any of the above, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately. You should go straight to hospital if you are losing a lot of blood and feel faint.

Diagnosis of placental abruption

The doctor will examine your abdomen, and monitor any contractions you may be experiencing. If you are experiencing vaginal bleeding, an internal examination will be performed. An ultrasound scan may be carried out to inspect the placenta more closely.

The baby’s heartbeat will be monitored during your hospital stay. It is important for the doctors to know whether the baby is in distress.

If you have lost a lot of blood on your arrival at the hospital, the examinations above will be delayed until your condition is stable. You will be given fluids, oxygen and, if necessary, a blood transfusion.

Treatment of placental abruption

Minor abruptions may require little more than an overnight stay in hospital. Once the doctor is happy that you and the baby are in good health, you will be discharged and told to return if further bleeding occurs.

If greater placental separation has taken place, you may be required to remain in hospital until the birth. Placental abruption can be life threatening for both mother and baby, so your doctor won’t take any chances with this condition. If the doctor considers your baby too young to be born, you will be admitted to hospital long term.

If you are close to your due date, immediate delivery may be the preferred option. This may be done by induction or, if necessary, caesarean section.

Prevention of placental abruption

To reduce the risk of you developing this condition, you should avoid smoking and drugs for the duration of the pregnancy (something you should avoid at all times anyway). You should attend all antenatal appointments to allow continuous monitoring of your blood pressure, and the baby’s gestational growth, as these can be early warning signs of the condition.

Written by Fiona, proud owner of a toddler, @fiona_peacock

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.

Fiona PeacockWhat is Placental Abruption?

Comments 8

  1. Julia

    A year ago my cousin was a surrogate of twins and the day before she was scheduled for a c-section she went in and ended up dying from placenta abruption 🙁 the twins lived for a day but then passed as well. She did not use drugs or smoke and she was not that old. Get right in to the doctors if you ever think something is wrong.

  2. Sarah

    I had a full PA 21 years ago. I went to hospital at 8:00 am b/c I started bleeding at 36 weeks. I was 19 the only reason they let me stay was b/c it was snowing. My dr waited to show up to hospital until 11:28pm and my son was delivered by emergency c-section at 11:32pm. I bleed so much all day at the hospital one time I thought my water had broke but it was only blood. The nurses had me walking to kick start labor! Bad idea! Eventually so much blood was coming out of me my mom said the nurse was throwing the pads on the floor. I was pretty much out of it by then. My son is 21 now and in his third year at college. I opted for a midwife for my next 3 children and had 3 successful Vbac w/o any meds and no problems. I didn’t trust ob after that. My midwife never left my side from the time I started labor. If you are worried or start bleeding then demand dr to find out what is wrong. I have moved since then and have seen ob/GYN for reg check ups. I have been on hormones for over a year for menopause and my fifth child is due Jan 2017 lol. I am seeing a midwife next week. I just don’t trust ob docs much. My heart goes out to all who have lost their children. PA are nothing to waist not one minute of time on. Trust your self and demand answer if you start bleeding. My dr had the nerve to tell me the next day after c-section in one minute we would have lost our son and in two minutes they would have lost me. Please don’t wait if you think you may have a PA.

  3. Aishah

    I’m in 31 weeks and 4 days and I have pain down what’s that mean please some body tell me ….

  4. Haley Lever

    I experienced PA just over ten years ago with my first child. I remember the experience as very traumatic. Thankfully he is now ten years old and perfectly healthy. I’m currently 32 weeks pregnant with my second child and beginning to feel more anxious as the weeks pass by should the same thing happen again. Due to this we have opted for a planned section this time round to be on the safe side. Lately my braxton hicks are occurring non stop, I can have them continuously throughout the day which has been causing me to worry as this was one of many symptoms I had last time that was not picked up on.

  5. Lisa

    i experienced a PA 7 years ago, and today I was very blessed to throw my daughter her 7th birthday party. She’s going into 2nd grade with straight A’s. Sorry for your loss.
    I am currently pregnant with my second child, and I am scared to death this may happen again. Prayers to you and yours

  6. Torey

    I’m so sorry to here about your lost ,I do know who you feel cause. I went though something similar to your situation ,the lost of a baby is heart breaking but as the days go by you learn to live and croup with the lost of your child. When I losted my Lil jeramiah it broke my heart so bad but as time went by I learn to deal with the lost ,I still think about him to this day he would be going on 3 years old .God will guide you though
    this time .

  7. Lauren

    I suffered a PA at 32 weeks and lost my little boy, i couldn’t be told the reasons for my abruption and I was only 21, with a low blood pressure, it’s the most heartbreaking thing to go through and it’s a warning to everyone that there is always a danger zone, I find talking about my little boy gets me through and also I have become aware of the Sands organisation, which reminds us all when a baby is lost they’ll “always be loved, never forgotten”, my heart and soul go out to anyone else this has happened too.