What is Placental Abruption

Placental AbruptionPlacental abruption is the early separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus.  The placental may completely or partially separate, but either way it causes bleeding which can be fast, extreme, and life-threatening for both mother and child.  Because the baby gets oxygen and nutrients from the placenta, a placental abruption can interrupt that process, as well.  This is a medical emergency.

The symptoms include:

  • Vaginal bleeding (even a small amount)
  • Back pain
  • Tenderness in the uterus
  • Fast contractions


Am I at Risk for Placental Abruption?

Some studies estimate that placental abruption happens once in every 150 pregnancies.  It is most common in the third trimester (after 28 weeks), but can occur as early as 20 weeks.

No one knows exactly why placental abruptions happen, but we do know that some women are more likely to face this problem.  Women with increased risk include:

How should my Doctors Treat Placental Abruption?

Doctors and nurses should be prepared to diagnose a placental abruption.  When a patient arrives with the symptoms, an abruption must first be confirmed or ruled out.  They may need to monitor the baby’s heart rate with electronic fetal monitoring,  (EFM), perform an ultrasound, and examine the vagina and cervix.

If placental abruption is confirmed, treatment will usually depend on how far along the pregnancy is.  If the mother is close to her due date, the doctor will typically deliver the child, usually by cesarean section.  Even if the abruption is minor, delivery is often the safest course of action, because these partial abruptions can quickly and unpredictably develop into full abruptions, which are more dangerous to mother and child.  In some cases, a course of labor may be tried, so long as an emergency cesarean is available.

If the due date is a ways off and the baby is premature, delivery may be postponed in the event of a minor abruption.  Corticosteroids may be given to more quickly develop the baby’s lungs, which are important for the baby’s health after a premature birth.

If doctors and nurses do not act quickly, the consequences to the child are severe, including:

  • Stillbirth
  • Premature birth
  • Growth problems (for smaller abruptions which disrupt the flow of nutrients)

Placental abruption is also a medical emergency for the mother, because uncontrolled bleeding can cause:

  • Cardiac failure
  • Kidney failure (also known as renal failure)
  • Death

Contact Us

If you have questions about whether your doctors timely diagnosed or treated placental abruption, contact our medical malpractice attorneys at (855) 712-7818 or online for a free consultation.

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