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Placental Abruption: Symptoms and Risk Factors

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Placental abruption requires immediate care since the baby may not be receiving enough oxygen. Placenta abruption occurs when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall before or during labor. The placenta is an organ that provides nutrients to the baby in the womb. Placental abruption can cause vaginal bleeding and pain.

Without prompt medical treatment, a severe case of placental abruption can have dire consequences for the mother and her unborn child.


When any symptoms occur, it is usually sudden. The main symptom of placental abruption is vaginal bleeding. However, vaginal bleeding doesn’t apply to all women, as 20 percent don’t experience any. Some of the symptoms and signs of placental abruption include:

  • Continuous lower back and abdominal pain
  • Painful abdomen (belly) when touched
  • Tender and hard uterus
  • Fetal distress

Risk Factors

While the exact cause of placenta abruption is unknown in most cases, certain factors make a pregnancy more at risk to placental abruption. Risk factors may include:

  • Advanced maternal age
  • Being pregnant with multiple babies
  • Having a history of high blood pressure or previous abruptions
  • Excessive amniotic fluid
  • Uterine infection
  • Substance use.

In most cases, doctors don’t know the exact cause or causes of placental abruption. However, having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll experience a placental abruption.


If you are experiencing any bleeding or abdominal pain, contact your doctor right away. Placental abruption can only truly be diagnosed after birth when the placenta can be examined. There are a few methods that are used to try to make this diagnosis during pregnancy so that proper treatment can be applied. Including:

  • Ultrasound
  • Blood tests
  • Fetal monitoring
  • Evaluation of symptoms (bleeding, pain, etc.).


In severe cases, complications of placental abruption can include:

  • Stillbirth
  • Decreased oxygen to the baby, which can lead to brain damage
  • Maternal blood loss leading to shock
  • Emergency hysterectomy
  • Maternal death from severe blood loss.

Placenta Abruption Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no way to reattach the placenta once it’s detached, or no treatment plan that can stop it. The treatment depends on the severity of the separation, location of the separation and the age of the pregnancy.

In the case of partial separation, usually less than 34 weeks, bed rest and close monitoring may be prescribed. In some cases, emergency treatment and hospital admission may be needed as well.

In the case with a complete separation, usually more than 34 weeks, delivery is often the safest course of action. Depending on the stability of the baby, an immediate C-section may be necessary. The mother might also need a blood transfusion.

We’re Here for You and Your Baby

Call your doctor immediately if you experience bleeding in your third trimester. The outcome of a placental abruption diagnosis is improved with fast and accurate treatment. While placental abruptions can’t exactly be foreseen, here at Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists, our board-certified OB/GYNS are experts in high-risk pregnancies.

Call us today at 770.720.7733 or request an appointment online.