Learn the warning signs of a placenta abruption and be prepared for his potentially fatal complication in Kingston, New York

The placenta is a round, flat organ that forms during pregnancy to give the unborn baby food and oxygen from the mother.   During normal pregnancy, the placental is attached to the inner wall of the uterus until the baby has been born.  The placenta is part of the baby's life support system as it transfers oxygen and nutrients to the baby.

If the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery--either partially or completely--it's known as a placental abruption (also known as placenta previa).  When the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before labor, it can interrupt the transfer of oxygen and nutrients to your baby.  There can be a partial separation or a complete (also called a total) separation.  Placenta abruption can happen any time after the 20th week of the pregnancy.  Although placenta abruption occurs in 1 out of 150 pregnancies, the fetal mortality rate is between 20% and 40%.

There is no way to stop a detachment of the placenta and there is no way to reattach it.  If left untreated, placental abruption places both the mother and the baby in jeopardy. The best thing that a mother can do is to be familiar with the signs of a placental abruption and take steps to reduce the risks of an abruption.

First, what are the signs and symptoms of a placenta abruption?  The classic signs and symptoms of a placenta abruption are vaginal bleeding, sudden onset of abdominal and/or back pain, uterine tenderness and rapid uterine contractions often coming one right after another.  Placental abruption should be suspected when a pregnant woman has the sudden localized onset of abdominal pain with or without vaginal bleeding and bleeding through hte vagina, called "external bleeding", occurs 80% of the time.  You may only have a few of these symptoms when the placenta separates from the inner lining of your uterus depending on whether you have a partial or total separation of the placenta.

What can you do to reduce your risk of placental abruption?  About half of placental abruptions that lead to the baby's death are caused by pregnancy induced hypertension, known as preeclampsia.  High blood pressure during pregnancy is treatable with medications and bedrest and the risk of placenta abruption can be lowered by treatment of pregnancy induced high blood pressure.

What else can you do to minimize the risk of placental abruption?  Assaults, motor vehicle accidents, falls and other kinds of trauma are one of the leading causes of placental abruption.  During your pregnancy, avoid physical activities that may result in a fall or accident.  Take it easy.

What else can you do?  Avoid alcohol, tobacco and cocaine (needless to say) during your pregnancy, as they are leading causes of placental abruption.

If you have any of the signs of symptoms of a placenta abruption, you must ask your obstetrician or nurse midwife for an abdominal and vaginal ultrasound and fetal monitoring, which in most cases will confirm the abruption.  An abdominal ultrasound is not considered diagnostic for partial separations of the placenta, but it will always detect a complete, or total, separation of the placenta.

Fetal monitoring, such as external fetal heart monitor (a belt that is strapped around your abdomen that detects the baby's heart rate), is good at detecting signs of fetal distress.  The unborn baby should be closely watched for signs of an abnormal heart rate.

If you have a total separation of the placenta, the only treatment is a cesarean section on an emergency basis.  If you have a partial separation of the placental, you may be able to continue your pregnancy to full-term depending on whether there are signs of fetal distress.

The most important thing is that you are aware of the signs and symptoms of a placenta abruption and take action for the right testing and treatment if you have any of the symptoms.