What is placental abruption?
This is the separation or detachment of the placenta from its implantation site during pregnancy. The placenta is supposed to remain attached to its base until the baby has been delivered. If detachment occurs any time before, that is placental abruption or "abruptio placenta", as the condition is classically known.
It sounds like a serious pregnancy complication
Yes, it is. Of course, the outcome depends on when it occurs during the pregnancy and the extent of the detachment.
What are the symptoms of placental abruption?
Normally, abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding.
It can, however, occur with no revealed bleeding at all and only with abdominal pain which varies in intensity. In some cases it is disguised as painful labour onset.
Is placental abruption dangerous?
Yes. When the bleeding is heavy - which is not uncommon in this condition - the pregnant woman may go into shock quite quickly.
The bleeding can also cause other complications. Even after delivery, bleeding may still be a difficult problem to contain.
Placental abruption causes maternal deaths. In the three years between 1997 and 1999 seven women in England and Wales died because of haemorrhage and 3 of these were due to placental abruption.
The baby fares badly, too. Figures published in various developed countries show that anything between 14 and 65 per cent of these babies are lost as a direct consequence. Half of these are stillborn, the remainder dying shortly after birth.
Are there any other problems associated with placental abruption?
Yes. Babies in pregnancies affected by this condition tend to be growth-restricted. In fact, four out of five such babies will have some degree of growth restriction at birth.
The birth itself is also usually premature.
These babies are also more prone to have major malformations, almost twice the average expected rate.
By the nature of the condition, even a baby born alive may have quite severe anaemia, requiring emergency transfusion immediately after birth.