The Latest On Miscarriage Research.
Solving the puzzle
Miscarriage -- the spontaneous loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy -- occurs in approximately 15 to 20 percent of confirmed pregnancies. While there's still much that isn't known about the causes and treatment of miscarriage, there have been some significant breakthroughs on the research front in recent years.
Slowly but surely, medical researchers are beginning to fit the pieces of the miscarriage puzzle together. Here is a quick summary of some of the more recent findings.
Alcohol may play a key role in early miscarriage. A seven-year study involving 25,000 women in Denmark revealed that women who consume five servings of alcohol each week increase their risk of miscarriage by 3.7 times. The researchers suspect that alcohol may be responsible for causing chromosomal defects in the developing baby and/or for triggering the release of prostaglandins (hormones that cause the uterus to contract). The takeaway message is obvious: alcohol and babies don't mix.
Folic acid may help to prevent miscarriages. The role of folic acid in helping to prevent open neural tube defects is well established, but a recent study in The Netherlands suggests that folic acid (the synthetic form of the naturally occurring B-vitamin folate) may also help to reduce the risk of early miscarriage. Researchers found that women with lower amounts of folate in their blood were more likely to have experienced recurrent miscarriages than women with higher concentrates of folate.
Pesticide exposure may be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage. According to a recent study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase the risk of miscarriage. They found that mothers who lived near crops where certain types of pesticides were used were 40 to 120 percent more likely to experience miscarriage than women who were not exposed to the same pesticides.
Pregnant women with eating disorders face an increased risk of miscarriage. Two recent studies have indicated that women with anorexia or bulimia face an increased risk of miscarriage, possibly because their health has been compromised because of their eating disorder and/or because their bodies are lacking the nutrients needed to sustain a healthy pregnancy. And, what's more, the authors of a recent clinical commentary in Obstetrics and Gynecology concluded that health care providers need to be more vigilant in screening pregnant women for eating disorders.
Women with an underactive thyroid face an increased risk of miscarriage. A study published in the Journal of Medical Screening found that pregnant women with a medical condition known as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) have a four-times greater risk of experiencing a second-trimester miscarriage than pregnant women who do not have this particular disorder.
Women who experience miscarriage are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a group of researchers at the US Army Soldier Support Institute in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, approximately 1 percent of women who miscarry exhibit the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder a month after experiencing their miscarriage. Such symptoms include emotional numbness, feeling dazed and confused, experiencing "flashbacks" about the traumatic event, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty functioning at home or at work.
The researchers concluded that some women may require treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome in order to come to terms with their miscarriage. While this study didn't focus on the causes and treatment of miscarriage, it represents a significant research breakthrough nonetheless: it's one of the first studies to seriously examine the psychological fallout of miscarriage.