Management of miscarriage: surgical, medical, natural
If you are told that your pregnancy has ended but that you have not had a complete miscarriage, you may be offered a choice about how to manage the situation:
Surgically: an operation, usually called Surgical Management of Miscarriage, or SMM.
Medically: with medication to begin the process of miscarriage.
Naturally: letting nature take its course.
It may help to know that a large research study comparing surgical, medical and natural methods came to three very important conclusions:
- the risks of infection or other harm are very small with all three methods
- your chances of having a healthy pregnancy in the future are just as good whichever method you choose
- women interviewed for the research study generally coped better when they were given clear information, good support and were able to choose the management method that they felt they could best cope with
We provide brief information below, but you can read more detail and some personal experiences in our leaflet Management of a miscarriage.
For many years, surgical management of miscarriage was called ERPC, an abbreviation for Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception, which means the removal of the remains of the pregnancy and surrounding tissue. Many people find this term distressing, which is why it should not be used any more, but it’s possible that you will still hear it or see it written.
Some hospitals offer surgical management with local rather than general anaesthetic. This is called MVA, which is an abbreviation for Manual Vacuum Aspiration. You may find it helpful to read Karen’s experience of MVA.
You can read more about surgical management in our leaflet Management of a miscarriage.
Some hospitals offer a combination of pills and vaginal pessaries which can “kick-start” the process of a delayed or missed miscarriage. Some women experience quite severe abdominal cramps as well as heavy bleeding with this option, but they may prefer this to an operation.
Hospitals sometimes differ in the way they give the treatment – for example, whether treatment is carried out in hospital or at home. In all cases, though, they should give you clear information about what to expect.
You can read more about medical management in our leaflet Management of a miscarriage.
Natural management (also called Expectant or Conservative management): letting nature take its course)
It can be difficult to know what to expect and when (it may take days or weeks before the miscarriage begins) but most women will experience abdominal cramps, possibly quite severe, and pass blood clots as well as blood.
In some cases …
You may opt for one method of management but find that things change. Laura talks about her missed miscarriage, which started naturally but required some hospital treatment too.