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Placenta Previa

What is placenta previa?

The placenta is a layer of cells in a pregnant woman's womb that allows the exchange of materials between her and her growing fetus: it lets food and oxygen in, and waste products out. Usually, the placenta attaches to the top or side of the uterine wall, but in the case of placenta previa, it attaches to the lower part of the uterus instead, partially or completely covering the mother's cervix and, therefore, the baby's path of delivery from the uterus to the vagina.

Placenta previa sometimes corrects itself over the time period from diagnosis to delivery, but it is nevertheless a serious condition that can cause severe and potentially life-threatening bleeding in the mother-to-be. It usually requires diligent prenatal care for the duration of the pregnancy and, especially in cases of complete placenta previa, a caesarean section to ensure the safe delivery of the baby.

Causes of Placenta Previa

Naturally, any expectant mother wants to know: What is placenta previa's cause, and what can I do to prevent it? While the first question can be easily answered, the second cannot. Placenta previa occurs when the embryo implants itself low in the uterine wall -- the placenta grows around the embryo, so if the embryo is located in the lower part of the uterus, then there is a considerable chance that the placenta will grow over the cervix.

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent placenta previa, but there are some recognized risk factors. Women who have had surgeries that involved the uterus, such as a caesarean section or fibroid removal, are at increased risk of developing placenta previa due to the presence of scar tissue along the uterine wall. Similarly, there is a greater chance of placenta previa in women who have previously delivered a baby or who are having a multiple pregnancy, who smoke, who are over 35 or who are of Asian descent.

Complete, Partial and Marginal Placenta Previa

When the cervix is completely or partially covered by the placenta, prenatal treatment will likely consist of bed rest and abstaining from sex and exercise in order to minimize the risk of bleeding. In cases of heavy bleeding, hospital care including a blood transfusion or medication to prevent premature labor may be required.

Marginal placenta previa occurs when the placenta is located at the edge of the cervical opening but is not actually covering it. While also a condition that can cause bleeding and must be taken seriously, this type of placenta previa is least likely to be life threatening or to prevent a vaginal birth.

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