How to Tell the Difference Between a Period and a Miscarriage

 When you’re trying to conceive, it’s normal to worry about having a miscarriage. About 75% of miscarriages occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy, and you might not even know you were pregnant.[1] Unless you took a pregnancy test, you might think you were just having a very heavy period. If you’re concerned that you’re having a miscarriage rather than a period, there are ways to differentiate between the two. However, you’ll need to visit your doctor to be sure.

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Examining Your Vaginal Discharge and FlowDownload Article

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    Check if your period is a week or more late if you suspect a miscarriage. Getting your period when you thought you might be pregnant can be really upsetting. However, a period that's on schedule is likely a regular period. However, a heavy period that’s a week or more late might be a sign of miscarriage. Check your calendar to find out when your period was supposed to start.[2]
    • Keep in mind that it's normal for your period to come a few days late, especially if you're stressed. This is usually not a sign of miscarriage.
    • For instance, if you expected your period on October 1 but it arrived on October 8, then it’s possible you had a brief pregnancy. However, consider if you have other signs of a miscarriage before getting worried.

    Tip: If you took a pregnancy test that came back positive, there’s a higher chance that your late period is actually a miscarriage. Visit your doctor to be sure.

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    Notice if you’re experiencing heavier than normal menstrual discharge. If a miscarriage happens very early in the pregnancy, your vaginal discharge will look similar to a normal period. It might look red or brownish in color, but it might also look like it has coffee grounds in it. However, your flow will likely be heavier than it usually is.[3]
    • For instance, you might normally need to change your tampon every 3-4 hours on the first day of your period, but right now you might be soaking through a tampon every 1-2 hours.
    • If you’re having a miscarriage later in your pregnancy, your discharge will likely contain more tissue. However, you likely won’t be expecting your period at that point, so it’ll be easier to recognize the discharge as a potential miscarriage.

    Tip: Try not to worry if you have light vaginal bleeding and know you’re pregnant. During the first trimester, light vaginal bleeding may be normal. However, call your doctor if you’re worried.

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    Look for more clots or chunks of tissue in your vaginal discharge. While it’s normal to have small clots in your menstrual discharge, you’ll likely notice a greater number of clots if you’re having a miscarriage.These clots will look like red lumps. Additionally, you may notice chunks of tissue that look grey or red.[4]
    • Blood clots may range in color from light red to a dark red that’s almost black.
    • It might be scary to see a lot of clots in your discharge, but they typically aren’t harmful to your health. If you’re worried, call your doctor for reassurance.
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    Watch for a gush of clear or pink vaginal fluid. During a miscarriage, you might notice different discharge that you normally have during a period. This may include clear or pink fluid. If you see this type of discharge, it might be a sign that you’re having a miscarriage.
    • Visit your doctor to find out for sure what’s causing your discharge. It may be something else, so try not to worry.
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    Notice if your vaginal discharge stops and starts again over a few days. In some cases, bleeding from a miscarriage may be more sporadic than your period would be. That’s because it might take time for a miscarriage to progress. You may notice that you're soaking through your pads or tampons for a few hours, but then your bleeding completely stops for a few hours. This can be a sign of miscarriage.[5]
    • If you normally spot for a few days before or during your period, you likely don’t need to be concerned about a miscarriage. However, if you’re swinging back and forth between heavy bleeding and no bleeding, it’s best to check with your doctor.
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    Recognize if your vaginal bleeding lasts longer than a regular period. Your body will likely need to shed more tissue during a miscarriage than during a period, even if you’ve been pregnant for only a short time. That means your flow will continue for several days or sometimes weeks longer than a normal period. Talk to your doctor if this happens to find out if you might have had a miscarriage.[6]
    • How long the bleeding will last depends on how long you were pregnant. If your period was only a week or 2 late, you might have an extra few days of bleeding.

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Checking for Other Signs of MiscarriageDownload Article

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    Pay attention to extreme pain or cramping in your pelvis or back. It’s normal to experience discomfort during a miscarriage that will feel similar to period cramps. However, you’ll likely feel worse pain that spreads over your pelvis and lower back. During a miscarriage, your cervix dilates to allow the tissue to pass, which causes more severe pain. Consider if your cramps and discomfort or worse than usual, which may be a sign of a miscarriage.[7]
    • You can typically take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help with the pain. Check with your doctor first, though.
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    Notice if early signs of pregnancy suddenly disappear. As soon as you get pregnant, you might start noticing early signs of pregnancy like tender breasts, nausea, or vomiting. If you’re having a miscarriage, you may suddenly realize that you had pregnancy symptoms that went away. This might help you figure out if this is a regular period or a possible miscarriage.[8]
    • For instance, it’s normal to have tender breasts when you’re pregnant or having a period. If your breasts suddenly feel normal, it might be a sign of a miscarriage.
    • Similarly, you may have had morning sickness that is subsiding.
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    Rest if you feel faint, dizzy or lightheaded. You may start to feel woozy or lightheaded during a miscarriage, which might feel scary. If this happens to you, sit or lie down so you can rest. Additionally, ask someone you trust to help you so that you don’t fall. Then, call your doctor to find out if you need treatment.
    • If you sometimes experience these symptoms during your period, they might be normal for you. However, feeling faint, dizzy, or lightheaded is more likely to occur during a miscarriage than during a regular period.

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Seeking Medical CareDownload Article

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    Consult your doctor immediately if you’re pregnant and have bleeding. It’s possible that your bleeding is normal, so try not to worry. However, it’s best to call your doctor if you have light bleeding or see your doctor immediately if you have heavy bleeding. Your doctor will find out what’s causing your bleeding and can determine if you’re having a miscarriage.[9]
    • If you can’t get in touch with your doctor, visit the emergency room to make sure everything is okay.
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    Visit your doctor if you have heavy bleeding and suspect a miscarriage. Your doctor will do a fetal heartbeat check and a pelvic exam to make sure everything is okay. They may also do an ultrasound. This will help the doctor determine if you’re having a miscarriage or not. See your doctor for these diagnostic tests as soon as you suspect a possible miscarriage.[10]
    • It’s possible to have a threatened miscarriage, which might be stopped. Don’t hesitate to get treatment just in case.
    • If you’re having a miscarriage, you may need medical treatment to help you pass all of the tissue if you’ve been pregnant for several weeks to a few months. Your doctor will help you pick the right treatment for you.[11]
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    Get immediate medical treatment for signs of an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to your fallopian tube instead of your uterine wall. Since the baby doesn’t have room to grow inside your fallopian tube, this can be life-threatening. Go to the emergency room or call for help if you have the following symptoms of ectopic pregnancy:[12]
    • Severe abdominal pain, usually on 1 side
    • Vaginal bleeding
    • Pain in your shoulder
    • Diarrhea or vomiting
    • Feeling weak, faint, or lightheaded

    Tip: Generally, symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy appear during weeks 5-14 of pregnancy.

Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio
Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio Dr. Rohit Bhaskar, Physio is Founder of Bhaskar Health and Physiotherapy and is also a consulting physiotherapist. He completed his Graduation in Physiotherapy from Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences. His clinical interests are in Chest Physiotherapy, stroke rehab, parkinson’s and head injury rehab. Bhaskar Health is dedicated to readers, doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. Bhaskar Health audience is the reason I feel so passionate about this project, so thanks for reading and sharing Bhaskar Health.

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