Friday, April 27, 2007

Immunology may be key to pregnancy loss

Until the last decade, there was little a couple could do if they suffered from recurrent pregnancy losses. Miscarriages that couldn't be attributed to chromosomal defects, hormonal problems or abnormalities of the uterus were labeled "unexplained," and couples would continue to get pregnant, only to suffer time and again as they lost their babies. New research, however, has provided information on the causes of the heretofore unexplained pregnancy losses allowing more effective treatment enabling women to carry their babies to term.

About 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies result in miscarriage, and the risk of pregnancy loss increases with each successive pregnancy loss. For example, in a first pregnancy the risk of miscarriage is 11 to 13 percent. In a pregnancy immediately following that loss, the risk of miscarriage is 13 to 17 percent. But the risk to a third pregnancy after two successive losses nearly triples to 38 percent.

Many doctors do not begin testing for the cause of pregnancy loss until after three successive miscarriages. However, because the risk of loss to a third pregnancy after two successive miscarriages is so high, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends testing after a second loss - especially for women over the age of 35.

There are two major reasons for recurrent spontaneous abortion (RSA), or miscarriage. One is that there is something wrong with the pregnancy itself, such as a chromosomal abnormality that curtails embryonic development. (A fertilized ovum is an embryo until 10 weeks gestation, and a fetus thereafter. Most miscarriages, though not all, occur between six and eight weeks, with expulsion taking place four weeks later, between 10 and 12 weeks.)

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