What is an Incomplete Miscarriage?  

An Asian American Woman lies in a hospital bed after an incomplete miscarriage

Genetic variances, chromosomal problems, or maternal health conditions can lead to miscarriage, or pregnancy loss before twenty weeks. Suffering through a miscarriage can be both physically and emotionally challenging, but it is relatively common, affecting up to 20% of known pregnancies. Miscarriage often occurs before a woman is even aware she is pregnant and is often mistaken for a routine menstrual period. Most miscarriages occur in the first three months of pregnancy.

What is an Incomplete Miscarriage?

During a miscarriage, the cervix dilates and blood, fluid, and fetal tissue are passed from the body through the vagina until no pregnancy tissue remains in the womb. In most cases, the tissue will pass on its own over the course of a few hours to a few days.

Sometimes, the body has trouble passing the pregnancy tissue and it remains in the womb. This is called an incomplete miscarriage. It can be hard to detect an incomplete miscarriage as the signs and symptoms are typically the same as a complete miscarriage: back pain, cramping, abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, and loss of pregnancy symptoms like breast tenderness or morning sickness. Without treatment, an incomplete miscarriage can lead to prolonged bleeding, excessive bleeding, or even infection which can be a serious medical condition.

These same symptoms can also occur after an abortion if not all of the tissue is removed. Diagnosis and treatment will follow similar procedures whether the pregnancy was lost through spontaneous miscarriage or abortion.

It is important to note that in some rare cases, a miscarriage is not passed at all. This occurs when the pregnancy is no longer viable but the cervix does not dilate and bleeding does not begin on its own. Different from an incomplete miscarriage, this is called a missed miscarriage.

How Are Incomplete Miscarriages Treated?

The same woman has her hand held by her doctor after an incomplete misscarriage

The most important first step is getting a diagnosis from your trusted healthcare provider, if you suspect you had any form of miscarriage. Only a qualified healthcare professional can diagnose an incomplete miscarriage. It is important to schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN as soon as possible if you believe you may not have passed all the tissue after a miscarriage.

There are two steps in diagnosing an incomplete miscarriage: first, your doctor will need to confirm that you are or have been miscarrying, and then, they will need to confirm if some pregnancy tissue remains in the womb. Incomplete miscarriage is diagnosed through a combination of tests such as a pelvic exam, fetal heart monitoring, a quantitative hCG blood test, and/or ultrasound. Some tests are conducted to confirm the miscarriage, while others help your provider see any tissue that has been left behind. Your provider will likely also ask questions about your signs and symptoms, including when you began bleeding.

Treatment varies depending on the unique circumstances for every patient, and may include:

  • waiting for your body passes the tissue on it is own, without intervention
  • dilation and curettage (D&C), a surgical procedure to remove any remaining tissue 
  • administration of misoprostol, a medication to medically remove the tissue

While most patients do have the option to wait and see if the tissue passes on its own, some patients choose either medical or surgical treatment to avoid prolonging the miscarriage. Patients who experience an infection as a complication of an incomplete miscarriage may need additional treatment, such as oral or IV antibiotics or, in rare cases, even hospitalization and inpatient treatment. Your healthcare provider can help you determine which approach is best for your situation.

It is important to know that surgical treatment of a miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy are legal in Wisconsin.

Coping with an Incomplete Miscarriage

Losing a pregnancy affects each woman differently. While some women experience incredible and debilitating grief, others do not experience those same feelings. There is no right way or wrong way to feel after an incomplete miscarriage; whether you are grieving or not, it is perfectly normal. It is also important to understand that women may grieve separate miscarriages in different ways.

The woman gives a mournful smile while speaking with her doctor after an incomplete miscarriage

The stages of grief that you might experience – not necessarily in this order – include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It can take weeks, months, or in some cases years to work through grief after loss. It is worth mentioning that grief is a highly individual and personal experience, and not everyone will go through these stages in the same way or in a linear fashion. Some people may also experience additional stages or different variations of these stages. It is essential to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve or to deal with a miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Seeking support from loved ones or professionals can be beneficial during the process.

It is important to care for your physical and emotional health after any type of miscarriage. Some of the steps you can take as you work through the stages of grief include:

  • Honoring the life that was lost. Choosing a name, holding a small, private ceremony, or planting a tree in their memory are a few ways to honor the life that was lost.
  • Leaning on your partner. If you have a partner, remember that they too are likely experiencing complicated feelings following the miscarriage. Include your partner in decisions and lean on them for emotional support. Respect their individual way of grieving. 
  • Seek counseling. Mental health support while you work through the stages of grief can help you manage and cope with your feelings.
  • Look for nonprofit support. There are a variety of nonprofit organizations that provide free resources and support after miscarriage.

While Willow Womens Center in Beloit, WI, does not treat for miscarriages, we do provide free pregnancy-related and educational services. Our dedicated team of professionals is here to support you through every stage of your journey. Whether you are seeking pregnancy testing, options counseling, or post-abortion care, we provide confidential and non-judgmental care. Take control of your health and well-being today. Contact Willow Womens Center at 608-312-2025 or visit our website to schedule an appointment. Your care and comfort are our top priorities. Reach out now and let us be your trusted partner.