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Early Miscarriage Signs vs. Starting a Period

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When you're pregnant or hoping to be pregnant, every little twinge may leave you wondering, especially if you've miscarried before. Symptoms of an early miscarriage can vary. Trust your intuition, and pay attention to changes in the timing or symptoms of your period, which might be signs of a miscarriage.

Miscarriage Causes

A miscarriage occurs when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks, according to the March of Dimes. Miscarriages most often occur in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy and may be caused by any of many factors, such as chromosomal problems or a health condition, including diabetes, hormone problems, thyroid disease or lupus, according to the March of Dimes. "If you smoke, drink alcohol or use street drugs, you may increase your chances of having a miscarriage," it adds. Up to half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage, but the exact number isn't known because many miscarriages occur before women even know they are pregnant.

Miscarriage Symptoms

The most common symptoms that you're having a miscarriage rather than starting your period are heavier bleeding and cramping, says Dr. Laura Nurse, a naturopathic physician in Ontario, Canada. You may notice more intense back pain as well as small clumps of tissue — or what look like blood clots — in your vaginal discharge. Severe belly pain may indicate a miscarriage, says the March of Dimes. However, Nurse says, in the absence of unusual symptoms other than heavy bleeding some women experiencing a miscarriage assume they are starting their period.

Confirmed Pregnancy

Because the symptoms of early miscarriage may seem very similar to starting your period, it's sometimes impossible to tell the difference, unless your pregnancy has been confirmed through a home pregnancy test or by a doctor. If you know you're pregnant and you experience bleeding or cramping, assume that you're not starting your period.

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When to Call

Cramping and bleeding in early pregnancy don't always indicate a miscarriage, says Dr. Joshua Hurwitz, a Danbury, Conn.-based obstetrician and fertility specialist, but it's smart to get it checked out -- even if you're not sure you're pregnant. Seek medical attention immediately if you begin having regular contractions prematurely, says Nurse. With quick medical intervention, pre-term labor can often be stopped, allowing you to complete your pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby.

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