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Types of Miscarriage

In this section, you may hear your pregnancy referred to in medical terms such as, ‘products of conception’, ‘fetal tissue’, ‘pregnancy remains’ or ‘fetus’. Although these terms are medically accurate, we are aware that many parents find hearing these words difficult. From the time of a positive pregnancy test, people generally refer to their pregnancy as a baby, therefore, being prepared to hear these terms can be helpful. It is important to know that health care practitioners do not mean to cause any offence when using any of the above medical terminologies. To try and help you as best as we can with this, we have provided a glossary of terms to refer to when reading the information. We have also provided additional information leaflets and web links that we hope will be of support to you.


Miscarriage can be divided into:

  • Threatened

  • Inevitable

  • Incomplete

  • Complete

  • Missed miscarriage.


An ultrasound examination can also show a pregnancy of uncertain viability. 

These are terms that the medical staff use and it is useful to know what they mean.

Doctor Holding Patient's Hand

Threatened Miscarriage

This is a medical term that is used when vaginal bleeding occurs, but an examination has confirmed that the neck of the womb is closed and an ultrasound has shown an ongoing pregnancy. If you are experiencing a threatened miscarriage, you will be advised to return if bleeding happens again. You should always contact the hospital if you have further bleeding.  

Although bed rest was routinely advised in the past for threatened miscarriage, it has been shown not to make any difference to the outcome of the pregnancy. However, it is a very worrying time and if you have concerns you may need to rest and take time off work until the bleeding resolves.


Inevitable Miscarriage

Inevitable miscarriage occurs when there is vaginal bleeding and sometimes period like cramps, and an examination shows that the neck of the womb is open. However, even though an ultrasound scan may show an ongoing pregnancy and/or no pregnancy tissue has passed from the uterus (womb), it is inevitable that miscarriage will occur. 


Complete Miscarriage

A miscarriage is diagnosed as complete when an ultrasound scan shows that there is no pregnancy tissue remaining in the womb.


Incomplete Miscarriage

Sometimes, despite heavy bleeding, an ultrasound scan may show that pregnancy tissue remains in the womb; this is termed an incomplete miscarriage. If this happens to you, you may still be experiencing vaginal bleeding and pain, and may go on to have a complete miscarriage. Or the bleeding may have stopped, and further treatment may be required.


Missed Miscarriage

A missed miscarriage is also known as a silent miscarriage because women generally do not experience the common symptoms of miscarriage, i.e. bleeding and pain. The pregnancy stops developing but the signs of pregnancy continue, and women have no reason to think they have miscarried. Often it is not until a routine ultrasound scan is performed that the miscarriage is diagnosed, which can be a shocking and upsetting experience. 

Pregnancy of uncertain viability

Pregnancy of uncertain viability is a term used when the ultrasound shows a pregnancy in the womb, but the ultrasound scan cannot confirm if the pregnancy is one that will develop normally, or may miscarry. An embryo may not be seen, or it may be too small to expect to see a heartbeat. It will not be possible to tell you if the pregnancy will continue to be successful, based on a single scan. In cases of pregnancies of uncertain viability, a repeat ultrasound scan will be necessary. 

The management of the different types of miscarriage is discussed in detail here.

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