Why Did My Doctor Say My Miscarriage Was an Abortion?

Woman with cramps. Credit: Ian Hooton/Science Photo Library / Getty Images

The terminology of miscarriages can be confusing at times, and many women are shocked to see the word "abortion" on medical forms or to hear the term from doctors.

It can be frustrating and sometimes very upsetting to hear your miscarriage referred to in this way. Regardless of your political leanings on the issue, it's natural to be upset by comparisons between miscarriages and abortions. The elective ending of a pregnancy is a completely different situation than the loss of a wanted pregnancy, both medically and emotionally.

Many doctors respect that patients often feel this way and try to avoid using the term "abortion" in reference to miscarriages, but some still use the term and it can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings at times.

Changing Terminology

Although the practice is changing, many medical texts and medical professionals refer to miscarriages as abortions. The term "spontaneous abortion" generally refers to a miscarriage, or naturally occurring loss of a pregnancy (as opposed to the elective surgically or medically induced abortion of an otherwise viable pregnancy). You may also see these terms used:

  • Missed abortion (for a missed miscarriage)
  • Incomplete abortion (a miscarriage with tissue still left in the uterus)
  • Threatened abortion (threatened miscarriage)
  • Inevitable abortion (nothing can stop a miscarriage from occurring)
  • Infected abortion (tissue remaining in the uterus after an incomplete miscarriage and/or the lining of the uterus has become infected)

Causes of Miscarriage

While the terminology used in your record or during conversations with your physician may leave you feeling uncomfortable, it is important to remember that in almost all cases, there is nothing you could have done to prevent a miscarriage.

Most miscarriages are the result of chromosomal problems in the fetus that impede development of a baby. 

In fact, about half of all fertilized eggs die and are miscarried, often before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. Among women with a confirmed pregnancy, about 15 to 25 percent of pregnancies will result in miscarriage. Most miscarriages--more than 80 percent--occur during the first three months of pregnancy, and the risk of miscarriage drops significantly once a baby's heartbeat has been detected.

Signs and Symptoms of Miscarriage

It is important to keep in mind that some of the symptoms of miscarriage, such as spotting or cramping, are also common symptoms of early pregnancy. However, any concerns you may have about the way your pregnancy is progressing should be raised with your physician. If you notice the following signs, let your physician know as soon as possible:

  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Pain or cramping in your abdomen or lower back
  • Fluid or tissue passing from your vagina

    Getting Pregnant Again

    The good news is that the vast majority of women who have experienced a miscarriage go on to become pregnant again and deliver normal, healthy babies. Having a miscarriage does not mean you or your partner have infertility.

    However, about 1 to 2 percent of women may experience repeated pregnancy loss. In these cases, physicians recommend asking for diagnostic tests to help determine the cause. 

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