Placental previa means that the placenta is in the lowest part of the uterus, covering all or part of the opening to the uterus (cervix). The placenta is tissue that is attached to the inside of the uterus and is attached to the baby by the umbilical cord. It carries oxygen and food from your blood to the babyâ€™s blood.
Placenta previa can cause severe bleeding and can be very serious for the mother and baby.
What is the cause?
Placenta previa happens when the fertilized egg attaches to the lower part of the uterus instead of to the top or side of the uterus. This can result in a placenta that is over the cervix. Often, as the uterus grows during the first 3 months of pregnancy, the placenta moves away from the opening of the uterus. If the placenta does not move up and out of the way, it is called previa.
You have a higher risk for placenta previa if you:
Are older than 35
Have given birth more than once
Have had many terminations of pregnancy (abortions)
Are carrying twins
Have had a C-section (a surgery that delivers your baby through a cut in your belly and uterus)
Have had placenta previa before
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptom is heavy, bright red vaginal bleeding that starts suddenly in the last few months of pregnancy. There is usually no pain, tenderness, uterine contractions, or cramps.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have tests such as:
An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of your uterus, the baby, and the tissue and fluid that surround your baby
A nonstress test, which uses a monitor strapped your belly to record how your baby’s heart rate changes when your baby moves
A biophysical profile, which uses sound waves (ultrasound) along with a nonstress test to check the baby’s breathing, movements, heart rate, and muscle tone.
How is it treated?
Treatment depends on how much bleeding you have had and how far along you are in the pregnancy.
If it is before 37 weeks in the pregnancy and you have not lost a lot of blood, your healthcare provider may recommend or prescribe:
Bed rest at home or in the hospital
Medicine to stop contractions if you have bleeding caused by contractions of the uterus
If you have lost a lot of blood, you may need a blood transfusion and your baby may need to be delivered early. If you have severe bleeding, the baby is usually delivered by C-section.
If you start having bleeding after 37 weeks of pregnancy and the placenta does not completely cover the opening to the uterus, you may be able to have a vaginal delivery. You will be monitored closely for increased bleeding or problems. At the first sign of increased bleeding you may need a C-section to deliver the baby.
If the placenta completely covers the opening of the uterus, a C-section is the only way to deliver the baby safely.
How can I take care of myself?
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-06-03 Last reviewed: 2014-06-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Placenta Previa: References
Cunningham, F., K. Leveno, S. Bloom, J. Hauth, L. Gilstrap, K. Wenstrom. Williams Obstetrics. 22nd ed. The Mcgraw Hill Companies, Inc. 2008. Accessed March 31, 2010 from http://www.accessmedicine.com.
Gibbs, R. B. Karlan, A. Haney, I. Nygaard. Danforthâ€™s Obstetrics and Gynecology. 9th ed. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2008. Accessed on June 27, 2012 from http://www.ovidsp.tx.ovid.com.
Lockwood, C. and Russo-Stieglitz, K. Management of Placenta Previa. Accessed June 2, 2014 from http://www.UpToDate.com.
Lockwood, C. Guidelines for Perinatal Care. 7th ed. AAP and ACOG. 2012.