Merck Manual

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Understanding the Language of Loss

Understanding the Language of Loss

Doctors may use the term abortion to refer to a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion), as well as to intentional termination of pregnancy (induced abortion). After 20 weeks of pregnancy, delivery of a fetus that has died is called a stillbirth.

Other terms for abortion include the following:

  • Early: Loss of the fetus before 12 weeks of pregnancy

  • Late: Loss of the fetus between 12 and 20 weeks of pregnancy

  • Induced abortion: An abortion that is brought about by medical means (drugs or surgery)—for example, because the woman’s life or health is endangered or the fetus has major abnormalities

  • Threatened abortion: Bleeding or cramping during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy without opening (dilation) of the cervix

  • Inevitable abortion: Pain or bleeding during first 20 weeks of pregnancy with dilation of the cervix, indicating that the fetus will be lost

  • Complete abortion: Closed cervix after expulsion of all of the fetus and placenta in the uterus

  • Incomplete abortion: Dilation of the cervix and expulsion of only part of the contents of the uterus

  • Missed abortion: Retention of a dead fetus in the uterus

  • Recurrent abortion: At least two miscarriages

  • Septic abortion: Infection of the contents of the uterus before, during, or after a miscarriage or an abortion

  • Spontaneous abortion: Loss of the fetus before 20 weeks of pregnancy