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The perinatal period can be an exciting time for expecting Massachusetts parents who are getting ready to welcome a new member of the family. This time period is also when mothers are at the highest risk for placental abruptions, a rare but serious pregnancy complication that can have devastating outcomes if it is not diagnosed and treated quickly.

According to Mayo Clinic, abruption is a pregnancy complication in which the placenta separates at least partially from the wall of the uterus. An abruption can deprive the fetus of the essential oxygen and nutrients provided by the placenta and lead to a premature birth or even a stillbirth. Complications for the mother include severe blood loss and the danger of organ failure.

Doctors often are unable to pinpoint the causes of placental abruption, but there are a number of risk factors, including the following:

  • Trauma to the abdomen from, for example, a car accident or a fall
  • Disorders that impede blood clotting in the mother
  • High blood pressure
  • Multiple pregnancy (i.e., carrying more than one child)

Women over the age of 40 are at higher risk of placental abruption. Smoking and other forms of substance abuse during pregnancy also increase the likelihood of this complication.

The final weeks of gestation are the most common time for an abruption. Symptoms of placental abruption include back and abdominal pain, high frequency uterine contractions and vaginal bleeding. Expecting mothers who experience these symptoms should seek medical attention as soon as possible because abruption can happen very quickly and may have devastating outcomes.

A recent study for the National Center for Biotechnology Information compared rates of placental abruption in seven developed countries, including the United States, where the frequency of abruptions is approximately double that of the other nations evaluated in the study.

In contrast to findings from the other six countries, the abruption rate in the United States appears to have plateaued since 2000 and is higher among African American women. The researchers acknowledged that the disheartening U.S. results may have been influenced by the misclassification of placental abruption.