Placenta previa is a medical condition that occurs during pregnancy. If not diagnosed and treated correctly, it can be harmful both to the baby and to the mother.
Placenta previa can cause:
- Life-threatening blood vessel rupture and bleeding (hemorrhage) when your cervix opens during or in the first hours following vaginal delivery.
- Placenta detachment, depriving your baby of oxygen during delivery.
- Pre-term birth, meaning your baby is delivered before he or she is full-term by means of an emergency operation called a cesarean section (C-section).
About 5% of pregnancies have some form of placenta previa during the first and second trimesters. Most cases resolve on their own, but in one out of 200 pregnancies the condition will continue into the third trimester. Placenta previa requires careful monitoring and planning for a safe delivery.
What Is Placenta Previa?
When a baby begins to grow in your uterus (or womb) at the beginning of your pregnancy, an organ known as the placenta will develop to remove waste materials and bring nutrients and oxygen to your unborn child. The placenta attaches to your uterine lining, normally at the top of your uterus.
Sometimes, however, the placenta has attached too low inside your uterus and can partially or completely cover your cervical opening. This is called a previa.
To protect you and your unborn baby from the risk of injury or death, your child would have to be delivered through C-section operation instead of vaginal delivery.
Placenta Previa Symptoms
Placenta previa symptoms can include cramping and vaginal bleeding in your second or third trimester. Even light bleeding this late in your pregnancy could be a sign of a problem regardless of whether or not you are experiencing any pain. It is important to let your doctor know immediately if you notice any bright red vaginal discharge which could indicate late-term bleeding.
Sometimes there are no symptoms and your doctor will discover it during a routinely scheduled ultrasound.
Placenta Previa Risk Factors
No specific causes have been identified for placenta previa that can predict with certainty whether you will be affected. There are, however, risk factors that may increase your risk of developing the disorder.
You are at higher risk of developing placenta previa if you:
- Are over 35 years old.
- Use drugs, including cocaine and nicotine products.
- Have diabetes.
- Have had previous pregnancies, especially if delivered by C-section.
- Have had a prior diagnosis of placenta previa.
- Are pregnant with multiples (twins, etc.)
- Have a history of other uterine surgeries or have had an abortion.
- Reside in a high-altitude location.
- Have a history of fibroids.
Treatment for Placenta Previa
If your bleeding is severe and your child is in danger, early delivery by C-section may be the only treatment option. Alternative treatment options can be used in an attempt to bring the pregnancy to full term or prepare your unborn child for premature delivery. These treatment options include the following:
- Bed rest or reducing your activity level
- Blood transfusions
- Steroid shots
- Other medications
If your doctor fails to correctly diagnose, monitor, or treat your placenta previa, your baby may be at risk for:
- Premature birth.
- Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
- Congenital abnormalities.
If you believe your doctor or healthcare provider was negligent during the delivery of your baby, consult with an experienced birth injury lawyer to discuss your options.