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Placenta Previa: Understanding the Risks

An unexpected diagnosis during pregnancy can be very stressful for expectant parents. All parents want to have a healthy pregnancy, so the diagnosis of placenta previa can add another layer of stress. We will be discussing placenta previa, its symptoms, and what can be done to contribute to a healthy pregnancy after receiving this diagnosis.



What is Placenta Previa?


First off, what is placenta previa? Placenta previa is a condition in which the placenta lies on all or part of the cervical opening. There are three different types of placenta previa:

  • Marginal placenta previa: The placenta is near the opening but does not cover the opening.

  • Partial placenta previa: The placenta covers part of the cervical opening.

  • Complete placenta previa: The placenta covers all of the cervical opening.

Placenta previa occurs in 1 in 200 pregnancies.


What are the Risk Factors for Placenta Previa?


Placenta previa is more common in women who have had multiple pregnancies in the past. Additionally, scarring of the lining of the uterus due to a history of Cesarean section, abortion or other surgery can increase the risk of placenta previa. Women who have a history of in vitro fertilization are also at greater risk of this condition. Finally, cigarette smoking, cocaine use and advanced maternal age also place women at greater risk of developing placenta previa.


What Are Possible Complications of Placenta Previa?


If you have been diagnosed with placenta previa, your provider will likely monitor you more closely. Serious potential complications of placenta previa include life-threatening vaginal bleeding. This severe bleeding can occur during pregnancy, labor, delivery or shortly after birth. An additional complication is preterm birth.


How Do I Treat Placenta Previa?


Your provider’s goal is to keep you pregnant for as long as possible, given the risks involved with preterm birth. Often, your provider will recommend abstaining from sexual activity and may even decide to not conduct pelvic examinations. In some cases, if heavy bleeding occurs, you may be treated with a blood transfusion. Corticosteroids may be administered to help expedite your baby’s lung development in case premature delivery occurs. Your provider will likely recommend that you avoid prolonged standing or heavy lifting. Cesarean delivery may also be recommended.


Can I Have a Healthy Baby?


It is possible to have a healthy baby following a diagnosis of placenta previa. Often, the placenta migrates on its own away from the cervix prior to the third trimester.


Takeaway Message:


Placenta previa is a prenatal complication that impacts 1 in 200 pregnancies. Your provider will likely recommend close monitoring during pregnancy following this diagnosis. Additionally, depending on your specific clinical situation, activity modification may be recommended. It is possible to have a healthy pregnancy following a diagnosis of placenta previa. Patients should be encouraged to discuss their concerns with their provider.


Have you been diagnosed with placenta previa? How were you treated? Please share in the comments below.

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