Medical terms for miscarriage
The medical language of pregnancy loss can at times be confusing or even confronting. Knowing how the words are used might bring you some comfort or certainty.
Particularly, you may still hear the term "abortion" when your doctor refers to your miscarriage. Historically the words meant exactly the same thing, and there are some contexts where the word abortion is still usual, even though it's a natural miscarriage that's happening.
Here are some of the clinical terms used by doctors in discussing natural or induced pregnancy loss are:
- Therapeutic abortion - known commonly simply as "an abortion"; an intentional termination of pregnancy.
- Spontaneous abortion - a natural, early pregnancy loss; a miscarriage.
- Missed abortion - a nonviable pregnancy (the embryo is not alive or has never formed) which has persisted beyond 12 weeks without obvious signs or symptoms of miscarriage yet; nowadays these are rare.
- Threatened abortion - a "threatened miscarriage" - the early signs of pregnancy loss (usually just bleeding)
- Inevitable abortion - an "inevitable miscarriage" - cramping has started and there is the loss of the secondary signs of pregnancy such as breast tenderness).
- Incomplete abortion or "incomplete miscarriage" - a miscarriage that has only partially been expelled - there is still tissue present in the uterus and bleeding is continuing and should generally be treated with a curette
- Blighted ovum - a general term for an early miscarriage in which the embryo or fetus has not formed (the modern equivalent is an "empty sac" on ultrasound).