Placenta previa is a complication of pregnancy that many women hear of, but few really understand. Many women have questions, such as, “what is placenta previa?”, “what are the symptoms?”, and “can placenta previa be treated?”
At Birth Injury Guide, we want to help our readers be informed. Your health is important to us, and you deserve every opportunity to learn about healthcare complications and get the answers you need. If you are pregnant or planning to conceive, read on to learn more.
What is Placenta Previa?
The placenta is an incredible organ that is only developed during pregnancy. This organ grows inside the uterus, and is what provides nutrients and oxygen to the developing fetus. The placenta also manages filtering out waste that otherwise could reach the baby. As pregnancy progresses, the placenta grows and moves from low in the uterus up toward the top. This allows a clear path from the womb through the cervix for delivery.
If the placenta does not rise and attach to the upper part of the uterus, the result may be placenta previa. This happens when the placenta attaches low in the uterus, blocking some or all of the cervix. This condition can cause complications during pregnancy, and can make delivery more difficult and dangerous.
According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that only around 10 percent of low-sitting placentas develop into placenta previa. The American Pregnancy Association estimates that one in 200 pregnancies experience some form of the condition. This is a dangerous complication, and it is important to understand the risks, symptoms, and treatment options you may have.
What are the Symptoms of Placenta Previa?
Placenta previa presents symptoms much like other complications of pregnancy. Any symptoms that are “off” or seem to be unrelated to the normal aches or symptoms of pregnancy should be treated seriously. The most common symptoms associated with placenta previa include:
- Sudden bleeding, which may be light or heavy
- Sharp pain or abdominal cramps
- Bleeding during or after sexual intercourse
- On and off bleeding that comes and goes within days or weeks
- Bright red bleeding during the second trimester that is not accompanied by pain
- Bleeding during the second half of the pregnancy that does not go away
Your doctor may also be able to determine that you have placenta previa via an ultrasound. By 20 weeks, your placenta is developed enough to be visible on ultrasound.
Can Placenta Previa be Treated?
There is no known medical or surgical “cure” for placenta previa. Treating the condition aims at reducing bleeding and keeping mother and child stable. Most cases of a lower-sitting placenta will correct themselves as the pregnancy continues. If correction does not occur, then healthcare providers must act quickly to manage the situation and determine if placenta previa has developed. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- Overall health
- How far along the pregnancy is
- The position of the placenta
- The position of the fetus
- The severity of bleeding
The most common treatments include the following:
- Most women diagnosed with placenta previa require bed rest and limited activity to prevent bleeding. That may include avoiding exercise or sexual activity for the duration of the pregnancy.
- Many women require intravenous fluids
- Tocolytic medications may be required to delay delivery for a short time. This is often done when a woman requires transportation to another hospital, or when the medical team requires time to prepare, such as administering corticosteroids to the fetus, or magnesium sulfate to the mother.
- Most cases of placenta previa require delivery via Cesarean (c-section). This may be planned in advance, with treatment and careful monitoring to prevent preterm labor. Some women with placenta previa can delivery vaginally, but that is something to carefully consider with the guidance of a healthcare provider.
- Severe cases of placenta previa with extreme bleeding or bleeding that will not stop often require immediate delivery via c-section. In such cases, it is in the best interests of mother and child to delivery, even prematurely.
Every woman and every pregnancy is different. These are the most common treatments for placenta previa, but there are many variables that may impact your treatment options. You should discuss any concerns about placenta previa or treatment options with your doctor as soon as concerns arise.
Risk Factors for Placenta Previa
If you are concerned about placenta previa, there are some risk factors that could help you determine what questions to ask your doctor. According to the Mayo Clinic, the primary risk factors for developing placenta previa include women:
- Age 35 or older
- Who are pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.)
- With a history of placenta previa
- Who have scars on their uterus from previous c-sections, dilation and curettage, fibroid removal, etc.
- Who smoke or use drugs
- Asian women are at a slightly higher risk than other ethnicities.
If you meet any of these risk factors and are planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor up front about the risks of placenta previa and what you can do to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Complications of Placenta Previa
Not only is placenta previa dangerous on its own, but there are also complications that you should be aware of. Research suggests that there are several complications that may include:
- Abnormalities of the placenta or umbilical cord
- Reduced fetal growth
- Increased risk of breech delivery
- Increased risk of ruptured membranes resulting in preterm birth
- Placenta accreta – a condition where the placenta grows deep into the womb, attaching to the muscle layer. This can result in the placenta failing to separate from the uterus at the time of delivery, which can cause severe bleeding and permanent damage resulting in hysterectomy following delivery. Placenta accreta is a life-threatening complication.
Maintain Control Over Your Health
Placenta previa cannot be “prevented” in medical terms, however, there are things you can do to mitigate the risk and work toward a healthy pregnancy. Being informed about the risks, symptoms, and treatment options is the first step. Next, you should contact your doctor about any concerns you have about your pregnancy. Your doctor has the responsibility of properly diagnosing and treating any complications in accordance with the standards of care.
If, at any time, you feel that your doctor’s care is substandard, it is important to take action. If substandard care has harmed you or your child, then you should also contact a birth injury attorney to explore your legal rights. Learn more about how you can maintain control of your health, and your legal rights, by contacting Birth Injury Guide. Fill out our online form to get started.