Many serious complications in pregnancy are extremely rare, but it’s important that you learn the signs and symptoms of them so that you know when to immediately contact your doctor. Certain symptoms always require immediate attention no matter what they indicate. Vaginal bleeding is one such symptom. It can be a sign of a wide variety of complications, but all of them are serious and potentially fatal. You shouldn’t have any bleeding or spotting during your third trimester, so notify your doctor immediately if you see that you do. One serious complication is placental abruption.

Placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before the time of delivery. It only occurs in 1% of all pregnancies, and it usually occurs sometime after the 20th week. While dangerous for the fetus, doctors can easily treat the condition. If the abruption is partial, your doctor will probably monitor your pregnancy closely until delivery, and you’ll probably need to rest until your baby is ready to be delivered. If the placenta has completely separated, your doctor will likely recommend delivery, because your baby will no longer have a supply of nutrients or oxygen in the womb otherwise.

The symptoms of placental abruption are ones you should be looking out for anyway in your third trimester. Vaginal bleeding, intense and fast contractions, and abdominal pain or tenderness are all common symptoms. To determine whether or not you’ve suffered from a placental abruption, your doctor will give you an ultrasound, close monitoring, and a set of blood tests.

There is no known cause for placental abruption, but certain activities during pregnancy have been associated with its onset. Women who smoke are more prone to the condition, and women who are pregnant and over the age of 35 are more likely to have it as well. Trauma to the abdomen during pregnancy is another common cause, and women who have had previous abruptions in past births will also be more likely to have one in their current pregnancy.

There is no denying that rapid contractions and abdominal pain in the third trimester are a seriously bad sign, so you should always call your doctor immediately if you experience any such abnormalities. You won’t know whether or not it’s a placental abruption until you’ve had an ultrasound and multiple levels of testing, but the condition is likely serious no matter what the complication is.

Source: Musarrat Jabeen et al: Abruptio Placentae: Risk Factors and Perinatal Outcome. Journal of Postgraduate Medical Institute Volume 18 Issue 4 20011