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Difference Between Miscarriage and Period

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It is very difficult to differentiate between an early miscarriage and a period that has come later than usual. Every woman has her monthly cycle at an interval of 28 days. In some the interval may be shorter and in others it may be longer. However the cycle or bleeding comes almost at the same time every month. In case the cycle is delayed by 1- 2 weeks, a pregnancy can be suspected especially if the woman is sure that she had had an intercourse during her ovulation time. In such instances if heavy vaginal bleeding occurs, it can pin point towards a miscarriage. There are certain signs that can help differentiate between a miscarriage and a heavy menstrual flow. Let us try and understand them.

Normal menstrual cycle and Pregnancy

A woman in the reproductive phase undergoes certain hormonal changes every month which is known as the menstrual cycle. The ovary produces the ovum or the egg that is released into the fallopian tube. Here it waits for the sperm to fertilize it. This is called as the ovulation phase of the cycle which falls between 12-14th day of the cycle. Simultaneously the uterus prepares itself for an anticipated pregnancy by increasing the thickness of the endometrial lining.

If a sexually active female has intercourse during this ovulation phase, there are chances that the sperm may enter the vagina and swim towards the ovum to fertilise it. When the sperm fertilises the ovum, zygote is formed which then implants itself into the thickened vaginal wall.  A woman will experience no menstrual flow after the 28th day as the pregnancy has been established. A home pregnancy test done approximately 2 weeks after the missed period will confirm the pregnancy. Sonography done around 7-9th week may show a small foetal sac and pick up heartbeat.

In case the woman has not had any sexual contact, there is no pregnancy; the endometrial lining begins the process of shedding. The unfertilised ovum and the extra endometrial tissue are then released from the body around the 28th day of the cycle in the form of normal vaginal flow that lasts for 3-5 days. After which the cycle begins again.

What happens in a miscarriage?

When the pregnancy terminates before 20 weeks it is known as a miscarriage. Most pregnancies terminate around 6 to 11 weeks when the foetus is very small. Many women are not even sure whether they are pregnant. At times due to certain chromosomal abnormalities the foetus is not strong enough to last for the whole 9 months and so dies early. The body sheds of this dead foetus and other pregnancy related tissue of the uterus in the form of blood flow through the vagina. If the woman knows that she was pregnant (confirmed by a home pregnancy test and pelvic ultrasound) and then experiences this unaccepted flow, she is sure it is a miscarriage. But if the woman hasn’t undertaken a pregnancy test and experiences late menstrual flow (delayed by 2-4 weeks), there is always a doubt whether it is a miscarriage or a late period.

Subtle differences between a miscarriage and a delayed period

  • Colour and consistency of vaginal discharge: A delayed period will be brownish red colour indicating old blood. The flow and colour of the discharge is similar to the regular menstrual flow. On the other hand the flow of a miscarriage will start with a brownish discharge followed by bright pink or red discharge which is unusually heavy with bigger clots than usual. The duration of heavy flow may continue for 2-3 days during which big red clots or small kidney shaped greyish tissue mass may also be seen. If the pregnancy has advanced beyond 6-8 weeks, the woman may also notice a ball shaped sac containing the foetus.
  • Nature of pain and cramps: Every woman experiences a bit of pain and uneasiness around her abdomen, thighs and legs just before the start of her periods. They reduce or disappear with the beginning of menses. They are usually tolerable. In some cases a woman experiences severe pain during every cycle that disappears after the bleeding ends. This indicates normal period. During a miscarriage however, there is sudden onset of pain and cramps which are unbearable. The woman may never have experienced such pain during her regular periods. The cramps come on suddenly and spread from the abdomen into the legs and thighs. The period of severe cramps is associated with very heavy blood flow. They are for a short time after which their severity subsides.
  • Severe low back pain: Every woman experiences pain and discomfort in the lower back just before the start of her periods. This is common and tolerable and is relieved by rest. In a miscarriage the woman experiences severe back pain that accompanies intolerable cramps and heavy blood flow that is not relieved on lying down.
  • Fever like symptoms: fever is not a common phenomenon during regular menstrual flow. During miscarriage a woman may feel an increase in temperature which may be an indication of internal infection. This required immediate medical attention.
  • Unusual blood flow: A normal menstrual flow is contained within pads or tampons. The blood flow in during a miscarriage is voluminous and sudden. Many women have experienced the floor getting stained bright red and blood trail from the bed to the bathroom as if a blood filled balloon has just burst.

A pelvic ultrasound and blood HcG tests are two ways to determine if there was a pregnancy in case of any confusion. The ultrasound may reveal and empty sac or show other products of conception. The level of HcG in the blood may be elevated if there had been a pregnancy. These two lab tests can help differentiate between a delayed period and an early miscarriage with more certainty.


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21 Comments

  1. “Every woman has her monthly cycle at an interval of 28 days.” Nope, not remotely true. Didn’t bother with the rest of the article since you don’t even get this most basic fact right, and certainly won’t bother with the rest of your website.

    • Well, of would have read a little further along you would have noticed the author said for some women may be a little shorter or a little longer. Stop being so arrogant. If you knew everything you wouldn’t be here in the first place.

  2. “In some the interval may shorter and in others it may be longer.”
    The next sentence…. This was an accurate and informative article.

  3. Is it normal to have left over blood or start a period at 6 weeks and 5 days pregnant ..

  4. Thank you so much for your information. It was helpful, I thought I was 4 weeks pregnant and I’m starting to feel maybe it was just on ma head because I’m trying so hard for a baby.so this sudden blood flow almost gave me a heart attack, from ma reading I believe it was just a delayed period because I don’t see the greyish tissue mass and the pain is bearable though my blood flow is heavy than any other flows I have had before. Thank you very much.

  5. I have read so many articles but I didn’t get a clear answer, I hard a positive test on 9th of this month, after three days it was negative,and I tested on 26th it was positive, suddenly I hard sever headache a night and back pain plus vomiting, my husband rushed me to the hospital at 4am but there was no malaria and since I had tested early from a clinic they concluded it was early signs of pregnancy, in the morning hours at 8am I began bleeding, a strong blood flow increased suddenly up to now, iam very afraid, we are ready to be parents, I don’t want to lose my baby, but I went for ultra scan and he said I could be two weeks pregnant but the bleeding affected the scan, my lovely husband thinks it’s a bleeding for first timmer, but I think iam having a miscarriage or had aflase positive, how do I go through with all this alone some one help.

    • Hi Carolina, I hope you had a great outcome regarding a possible pregnancy. You don’t have to respond to this but I wish you all the best if not now let’s hope you will be blessed with a healthy pregnancy in the near future.

      • Well I wonder if I am pregnant or not
        I felt many symptoms of pregnancy and on cd26 my af came as I thought it starts light brownish and then by the end of cd1 it became heavy very heavy than usual brick red with clots and second day was worse bleeding was heavier and I can see large size clots of blood and now cd3 it’s very light almost nothing
        Can I be pregnant ? Can that be a miscarriage I can’t think and don’t know what should I do?

  6. It was very helpful due to wat im experiencing. I was really scared but i have some faith that its just a late passing period and im not loosing my baby

  7. Thank you for the info you gave it was more informative then anything else I’ve found. but I still have questions.

  8. My last period was February 10. My husband and I have been trying to conceive for about 3 months now. I have previously been pregnant once before, we have a seven year old together. I have also take oral birth control before for reasonable amount of time.
    I am concerned right now because I’m having what feels like mild period cramps. We are also all getting over the flu in my house.
    I am scared that I might be miscarrying or have before and not realized it, because it feels so much like a normal period.

    • This is probably ovulation you are feeling, after ttc, having one ectopic and one (possibly two after today) miscarriage I am way more aware of my body changes during my cycle, especially with ovulation. I lost my left tube and can feel when I am ovulating on my right side now.

  9. My name is Brittney and my question is I haven’t had a period for the past two months but every pregnancy test ive taken is been negative but I’ve been having pregnancy symptoms what could this mean? And than today all of a sudden i started lightly spotting.

  10. The image accompanying this article is in poor taste, to say the least. What looks like an aborted foetus, greeting women who are probably here because they’re worried they’re miscarrying? How insensitive! Even if the foetus is supposed to be alive, people who are scared they are losing their baby don’t want to see what is dying inside them! It’s shocking, and disturbing – please consider taking it down.

  11. My last period was 10th April 2017 and I’d been having symptoms of pregnancy but getting negative results and this morning I started bleeding heavy with two big blood clots and feeling dizzy and weak and in pain. Could this be a miscarriage (10weeks) or a delayed period ?

  12. I’m not sure if it’s possible to leave a review, but if it is, I don’t know how to. This was a very informative article that I’m glad I stumbled across, the authors seem to be very knowledgeable on the topic. Helped ease my mind, thank you!

  13. I got my period twice this month, and both times it lasted 5-6 days and this is the first time I’ve ever had it twice in one month and I’m not too sure what that means. Is it just my period or something else? someone please help

  14. So I have a question. My “period” cane two weeks early. No symptoms, want expecting it. It just hit. It was ready heavy for about a day. I never cramp with my period, but the night it started, I was having cramps in my lower left abdomen. They were so bad I almost went to the e.r. I was almost in tears it hurt so bad. The cramping only lasted like an hour. Since then, my period went to spotting no more heavy flow. Is it possible it was a miscarriage being 2 weeks early from my regular cycle?

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References :


[0]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscarriage

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