Is Tendency Toward Miscarriages Hereditary?

Learn about whether common causes of miscarriage run in families.

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Question:

Is Tendency Toward Miscarriages Hereditary?

My mother told me that she had four miscarriages before she got pregnant with me. I'm planning to try for a baby soon and now I'm wondering whether miscarriages can be hereditary. Should I talk to a doctor about this before I conceive?

Answer:

A miscarriage is a type of pregnancy loss that occurs on its own within the first half of a pregnancy (the first 20 weeks).

Most occur during the first trimester (the first 13 weeks). According to the American Pregnancy Association, 10% to 25% of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage. 

It is theoretically possible for a tendency toward miscarriages to be hereditary and to run in families, and a few studies have suggested that unexplained recurrent miscarriages might sometimes run in families. It is worth mentioning your mother's history at your preconception visit with your doctor. However, this doesn't mean that your risk of miscarriage is necessarily any higher than average.

Doctors find a possible cause in only about half of women who experience recurrent miscarriages. Of the known causes, most usually don't get passed down through families. Researchers believe that the majority of miscarriages are the result of chromosomal problems that were present in the sperm or egg at the time of conception, and this usually results from random errors in cell division during formation of the sperm or egg, rather than any condition directly inherited from the mother or father's parent.

Sometimes with recurrent miscarriages, there may be an asymptomatic chromosomal disorder such as balanced translocation that causes an increased tendency to miscarry, and such conditions can run in families and be passed on to a child. Yet such disorders are present only in around 5% of all couples with recurrent miscarriages, so unless you know for sure that your mother has a translocation or other chromosomal condition, odds are low that it's anything you need to worry about.

With other known recurrent miscarriage causes, such as antiphospholipid syndrome, it's possible that you could have a genetic predisposition to develop those conditions if your mother has them, but these problems usually aren't strictly genetic—in other words, they don't tend to pass directly from parent to child. There's also no strong evidence to suggest that screening for these conditions before a first pregnancy is beneficial.

Other factors that can increase the risk of miscarriage that are not hereditary include lifestyle choices (such as ingesting large amounts of caffeine, using drugs, smoking, not eating enough nutritious foods, and radiation exposure) and the age of the mother. 

So, do mention your mother's miscarriages to your doctor before attempting to get pregnant, but unless you know for sure that she was diagnosed with a chromosomal condition, you probably don't need any advanced testing. Most likely, your risk of miscarriage isn't higher than average.

If you do become pregnant, look out for common symptoms of miscarriage.

Call your doctor right away if you experience any vaginal bleeding that is bright red or brown, cramping or back pain, the passing of tissue through the vagina, weight loss, and a decrease in pregnancy symptoms (such as tender breasts, fatigue, nausea, frequent urination). 

Sources:

Ask an Expert: Family History of Miscarriage. Providence Health & Services. Accessed: Jan 23, 2010.

Christiansen‌, Ole B., Ole Mathiesen‌, J. Glenn Lauritsen‌ and Niels Grunnet‌. "Idiopathic Recurrent Spontaneous Abortion: Evidence of a Familial Predisposition." Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 1990, Vol. 69, No. 7-8, Pages 597-601.

http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/miscarriage/

http://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/early-pregnancy-symptoms/

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