Placental Abruption

What You Should Know About This Life-Threatening Condition

A placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus in the last half of a pregnancy. It is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition for both the mother and the child.

Recognizing The Signs Of An Abruption

The Mayo Clinic lists signs and symptoms of an abruption that may include:

  • Pain in your abdomen, back or both
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Uterine contractions
  • Uterine tenderness or firmness

If you develop pain in your abdomen and any amount of vaginal bleeding, you should notify your physician immediately, or go to the nearest labor and delivery unit. Your symptoms will be evaluated, and your baby's well-being will be evaluated by fetal monitoring. You may have blood drawn to check your hemoglobin, hematocrit and fibrinogen levels. An ultrasound should be done to rule out an abruption.1

A placental abruption is an emergency situation, and delivery by cesarean section is necessary. The outcome for both mother and baby depends on how much of the placenta has torn away from the uterus, as well as how may weeks you are into your pregnancy.

What Causes Placental Abruption?

The cause of an abruption is often unclear, but there are certain risk factors that can increase the chance of it occurring. Pregnant women who smoke, have high blood pressure, use illicit drugs (such as cocaine) or experience trauma (such as a fall or being in an auto accident) to the abdomen are at an increased risk for a placental abruption. In cases involving trauma, the abruption usually happens within 24 hours from the trauma.1

Mothers carrying more than one child are at a greater risk, as are women over the age of 40. If you have had a placental abruption in a previous pregnancy, there is an increased risk that it could happen again in future pregnancies.

What Are The Risks Of Placental Abruption?

The greatest risk of placental abruption is stillbirth. A child may also be deprived of oxygen, or suffer from stunted growth if he or she did not receive enough nutrients.

The risk of injury for the mother is also severe. Placental abruption can cause severe blood loss, leading the mother to go into shock. Her organs could fail, and she may need a blood transfusion. In some cases, a hysterectomy may be the only way to avoid continued bleeding.

Placental Abruption And Medical Negligence

Placental abruption itself is not usually caused by medical negligence — but the effects of that abruption may be. If doctors fail to diagnose an abruption, and therefore delay treatments or delay a C-section, both the mother and child are placed in severe, unnecessary danger. Placental abruption can lead to life-altering birth injuries if undiagnosed and untreated. If a patient or her baby has sustained a birth injury as a result of negligence, you may be able to make a claim for damages.

  1. Ananth, C., & Kinzler, W. (2016). Placental abruption: Clinical features and diagnosis. UptoDate. Retrieved from