Placental Abruption

An uncommon, but very serious complication in pregnancy is called placental abruption or Abruptio Placenta. This condition requires immediate medical attention.

After an egg is fertilized in the fallopian tube, it travels down to the uterus and implants itself. The uterus provides an environment for the placenta to grow and nourish a developing fetus. If at any point during a pregnancy the placenta becomes detached from the uterus, the fetus than becomes deprived of oxygen and nutrients. This can also cause a great deal of bleeding to the woman.

What is placental abruption

Placental Abruption is defined as any separation of the placenta from the uterus after 20 weeks gestation. Not only is the fetus at great risk, so is the mother. A placenta’s detaching from the uterus prior to around 20 weeks is generally considered a miscarriage.

Placental abruption can happen without any signs or symptoms, but vaginal bleeding is usually the first indication. Anyone who experiences vaginal bleeding at any point in their pregnancy should seek medical attention immediately.

Other symptoms of placental abruption:

-Uterine tenderness

-Continual abdominal pain with or without back pain

-Rapid contractions

There is no exact cause of placental abruption. Research has indicated several risk factors:


-Cocaine use

-Smoking while pregnant

-Short umbilical cord

-Uterine abnormalities

-Previous history of placental abruption

-Alcohol use

- multiple pregnancies

-Placental abnormalities


-Injury to abdomen such as a car accident

True diagnosis of placental abruption cannot be made until after delivery when the placenta is inspected.

Treatment for placental abruption depends on 3 factors-severity, location and fetal age.

There is no way to reattach a placenta to a uterus. If the abruption is mild and the baby is in no apparent distress, a woman may be instructed to go home with modified activity. Depending on the age of the fetus, the mother may be given corticosteroids to mature the baby’s lungs incase of emergency delivery.

If the mother has experienced great blood loss or the fetus goes into distress, an emergency c-section is almost always indicated.

A placental abruption that goes unnoticed could result in brain damage or still birth to the baby. If a large amount of blood is lost, the woman may go into shock. This would affect the mother’s vital organs. If the abruption is severe enough, she may require a hysterectomy.

Placental abruption cannot be prevented but you can avoid some of the known risk factors.

Women who have experienced placental abruption in the past should speak to their doctor before planning another baby.

© Rebecca Pillar 2008