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What is a placental abruption?

Whereas childbirth once presented a number of complications that could have been disastrous to both mothers and babies in Providence, advances in obstetrics in recent years have helped to significantly lower the chances for such problems. Yet while the methods used to diagnose and treat these issues have improved dramatically, many complications in the delivery process cannot be prevented entirely. Placental abruption is one of these problems, and an early diagnosis of this condition is essential in saving the lives of those unborn babies affected by it.

A placental abruption occurs when the placenta begins to peel away from the uterine wall prematurely, depriving an unborn baby of essential oxygen and nutrients. This condition often occurs late in pregnancy or during childbirth, and is commonly triggered by sudden trauma to the abdomen or a mother’s water breaking prematurely due to fluid build-up around the uterus. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, placental abruptions occur in 6.5 of every 1000 births in the U.S. 

Significant abruptions almost always result in the baby’s death unless labor is induced immediately following the event. Unfortunately, this condition will often go undiagnosed initially since its signs and symptoms so closely resemble those of other, less serious pregnancy-related conditions. Those symptoms include:

  • Increased vaginal bleeding
  • Painful uterine contractions
  • Irregular fetal heartbeat

Those women already in labor when the abruption occurs also often feel the uterus itself become very hard to the touch, leading to abdominal tenderness and back pain. Diagnosing a placental abruption is typically done through careful observation of a mother’s symptoms and supporting those observations with ultrasound. Once an abruption has been confirmed, labor should be induced or the baby should be delivered immediately via emergency C-section. 

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