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Health Information Center

Placental Abruption

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Placental Abruption

(Premature Separation of Placenta; Ablatio Placentae; Abruptio Placentae)


The placenta is an organ that nourishes the baby in the womb. Placental abruption is when it parts from the womb before a baby is born.

Placental Abruption.

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The exact cause is not always known. Other times it may be due to:

  • Rupture of an artery or vein in the uterus which causes bleeding between the placenta and the uterine wall
  • Problems with how the placenta forms
  • Low oxygen levels in the uterus
  • Injury to the belly from an accident or a fall
  • Sudden decrease in the volume of the uterus, such as from losing amniotic fluid or from the delivery of a first twin

Risk Factors

This health problem is more common in older people who are pregnant.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Trauma
  • Prior abruption
  • Multiple prior deliveries
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Substance use disorder, especially cocaine
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
  • High blood pressure during pregnancy
  • Being pregnant with more than one baby
  • Prior Cesarean section (C-section)


In the early stages, there may not be symptoms. Women who do have symptoms may have:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Belly pain
  • Back pain
  • Rapid contractions


The doctor may ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A pelvic exam will also be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis. More tests may be done to find a cause, such as:


Treatment will depend on the how much the placenta has separated and the health of the pregnant person and fetus. Bed rest and close monitoring may be needed to allow the fetus more time to grow. Or emergency vaginal or cesarean delivery may be needed if the pregnant person and fetus are in danger.


The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Not using drugs or smoking during pregnancy
  • Wearing a seatbelt
  • Going to all prenatal care visits




  • Placental abruption. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/placental-abruption.
  • Placental abruption. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/placental-abruption.
  • Placenta previa. Stanford Children's Health website. Available at: http://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=bleeding-in-pregnancyplacenta-previaplacental-abruption-90-P02437.


  • Elizabeth Margaret Prusak, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.