Medical discovery: Why multiple miscarriages happen

Scientists think a lack of stem cells in the womb's lining might explain why some moms have recurrent losses.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

We’ve all heard the stat: As many as one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. But despite how common miscarriage is, it hurts like hell when it happens. It did for me, anyway. I lost a baby at 13 weeks—it had died at 9 weeks, but I only found out a month later, when I started bleeding—and the experience is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life.

But I only had one miscarriage. Lots of women have multiple miscarriages, which I can imagine would be almost unbearable. That’s why it’s really exciting to hear that researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK think they’ve figured out the reason why some multiple miscarriages happen—which, hopefully, could lead to the discovery of a method of preventing it in the first place.

The scientists believe that a lack of stem cells in the womb lining could be cause of recurrent miscarriages (defined as the loss of three or more consecutive pregnancies). For their study, which was published in a recent issue of the journal Stem Cells, they looked at the womb linings of 183 women who had experienced multiple losses and found that they were missing an “epigenetic signature”—something that signals the presence of stem cells. “We have discovered that the lining of the womb in the recurrent miscarriage patients we studied is already defective before pregnancy,” says lead study author Jan Brosens. (Personally, I think the use of the word “defective” here is kind of hurtful, but I get what he’s saying.)

So what does this mean for women suffering from recurrent miscarriages? Brosens, who is a professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, thinks the discovery could lead to a cure for some patients. “I can envisage that we will be able to correct these defects before the patient tries to achieve another pregnancy.”

Study of new treatments will get underway this year, says study co-author Siobhan Quenby. “We will start piloting new interventions to improve the lining of the womb in the spring of 2016.”

The team’s focus will be twofold, she says. “First, we wish to improve the screening of women at risk of recurrent miscarriage by developing new endometrial tests. Second, there are a number of drugs and other interventions, such as endometrial ‘scratch’, a procedure used to help embryos implant more successfully, that have the potential to increase the stem cell populations in the womb lining.”

As someone who’s been through a miscarriage, I’m glad to know the issue is being studied and that there are discoveries being made. The fact that miscarriages are common doesn’t make them any easier to stomach. Lots of health issues are common, but doesn’t mean we should accept them as inevitable.

Read more:
Common miscarriage questions
Signs of miscarriage
Coping with miscarriage: grief, recovery and when to tell people

3 Comments