Abortion resident survival guide

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Ifeoma Anaya, M.D.[2]

Synonyms and Keywords: Miscarriage; termination


Abortion refers to pregnancy loss occurring before 20 weeks of gestation. Without external intervention is known as Spontaneous abortion. An example of a life-threatening cause that may result in death or permanent disability within 24 hours if left untreated is a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Other causes include chromosomal abnormalities, infections, cervical anomalies, etc. Ultrasound, β-HCG, and progesterone levels are helpful in confirming diagnosis and treatment could be conservative, medical, or surgical depending on the cause, presentation, and/or patient's preference. Administer Rhogam to Rh (D) negative mothers, and counsel, accordingly if pregnancy is subsequently desired. Medical management is contraindicated in conditions like severe anemia, bleeding disorders, etc while surgical intervention is not indicated with an unconfirmed diagnosis of spontaneous abortion.


Life Threatening Causes

  • Life-threatening causes include conditions that may result in death or permanent disability within 24 hours if left untreated.
    • Ruptured ectopic pregnancy
    • Blunt abdominal trauma with hemodynamic instability

Common Causes

  • Unknown
  • Chromosomal abnormalities such as:
    • Trisomies
    • Molar pregnancies
    • Blighted ovum
  • Congenital anomalies
  • Infections
  • Cervical insufficiency
  • Abnormalities of the reproductive system e.g. uterine malformations, fibroids especially submucosal.
  • Behavioural/lifestyle causes such as illicit drug and alcohol use, smoking
  • Environmental such as exposure to radiation
  • Uncontrolled chronic diseases (Diabetes, Hypertension, Hypo/Hyperthyroidism, Antiphospholipid syndrome, etc)
  • Iatrogenic such as amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling


  • Shown below is an algorithm summarizing the diagnosis of Abortion.[1] [2]
Female of reproductive age, gestation <20weeks, bleeding per vagina, +/-pelvic pain
Targeted history and examination, β-HCG,CBC, type and screen
Hemodynamically stable?
IV access and fluid resuscitation, move to the ED and send consult to OBGYN
Signs of peritonitis?
Pelvic ultrasound
Extrauterine, confirmed ectopic?
Surgery. Stabilise if need be
Threatened abortion; viable preganancy+closed cervix
Missed abortion; non-viable pregnancy+closed cervix
Inevitable abortion; viable pregnancy+open cervix
Incomplete abortion; Retained Products of Conception+closed cervix
Complete abortion; empty uterus+closed cervix
Serial prpogesterone, β-HCG, ultrasound
Ectopic Pregnancy
↑β-HCG >66% in 48hrs,normal ultrasound, progesterone >25ng/ml
Progesterone <5ng/ml, β-HCG ↓ or ↔, non-viability on ultrasound
β-HCG equivocal, ultrasound not diagnostic, progesterone 5-25ng/ml
Treat accordingly
β-HCG every 2-3 days, repeat ultrasound weekly till viability is ascertained


  • Shown below is an algorithm summarising the treatment of abortion.[3]
Viable pregnancy?
Threatened abortion
Missed, incomplete or inevitable abortion
Weekly check ups till bleeding ceases, administer Rhogam[Rhο(D)] immunoglobulin if indicated, watch out for oligohydramnios, IUGR and preterm labor
Any complications? E.g.pain, hemorrhage, sepsis
Counsel on expectant management
Follow-up with serial β-HCG
Uterine evacuation or medical treatment
Uterine evacuation and stabilise patient


  • Administer Rhogam to Rh (D) negative mothers and counsel accordingly if pregnancy is subsequently desired.
  • Counsel/Reassure patients and their partners when they are available on how to deal with guilt, the grieving process, and handling friends and family.[4]
  • Reversible risk factors can be addressed professionally.
  • Reassure when the cause is unknown.


  • Contraindications to conservative management/use of uterotonic drugs are:
    • Severe blood loss leading to anemia
    • Septicemia or pelvic infections
    • Shock
    • Equivocal diagnosis of abortion/desired pregnancy
    • Presence of bleeding disorder
    • Ectopic pregnancy
    • Molar pregnancy
    • Adverse reaction to uterotonic agents
    • >12 weeks uterine volume
  • Surgical management is contraindicated in the following settings:
    • Presence of bleeding disorder that has not been corrected
    • Unconfirmed diagnosis of abortion


  1. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/1001/p1243.html
  2. https://www.cancertherapyadvisor.com/home/decision-support-in-medicine/pediatrics/spontaneous-abortion/
  3. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/1001/p1243.html
  4. Griebel CP, Halvorsen J, Golemon TB, Day AA (2005). "Management of spontaneous abortion". Am Fam Physician. 72 (7): 1243–50. PMID 16225027.

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