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Placenta accreta

3-minute read

Placenta accreta is a serious but rare pregnancy complication that can cause very heavy bleeding. If you have placenta accreta, you will need special care when you have your baby.

The condition develops when the placenta implants too deeply into the wall of the uterus (womb). Sometimes it can grow right through the muscle wall to the outside of the uterus.

After the birth, the placenta doesn’t come away as normal but stays firmly attached to the uterus. This can cause severe bleeding. Placenta accreta can also be a cause of premature birth.

Your doctor or midwife may suspect you have placenta accreta before the birth if it’s detected in an ultrasound. But in other cases it may not be discovered until the baby is born.

What is the cause of placenta accreta?

Although placenta accreta is rare, it has become more common in recent years because of the higher number of caesareans. Any surgery that leaves scarring on the lining of the uterus can increase your chances of developing placenta accreta.

The risk also increases if you have had fibroids, you are having twins, you have placenta praevia, you are a smoker, or you are older than 35.

What are the symptoms of placenta accreta?

Often placenta accreta doesn’t cause any symptoms. The most likely symptom is bleeding in the third trimester. It’s more likely to be picked up by your doctor during an ultrasound.

How is placenta accreta treated?

If your doctor suspects you have placenta accreta during your pregnancy, they may order a vaginal ultrasound and possibly an MRI. They will monitor your baby and arrange for you to give birth in a major hospital. You will need to stay close to the hospital during your third trimester.

You will need to have a caesarean and a blood transfusion when your baby is born and your obstetrician will probably decide to do this before your due date to avoid the risk of you going into labour early.

Your obstetrician will discuss your options with you before the surgery, but in most cases, the safest option to avoid major blood loss and infection is to have a hysterectomy.

If you wish to have more children, your obstetrician may consider leaving the placenta inside the uterus. Although this means avoiding a hysterectomy, it can increase the risk of postpartum haemorrhage and developing a serious infection. You will also need to have multiple checkups and tests in the months after having your baby. One in 3 women might still need a hysterectomy later on if there are complications.

Recovering from placenta accreta

You will need to spend some time in hospital to recover from the surgery. During this time you will still be able to bond with your newborn.

It’s not uncommon for women who go through this kind of birth trauma to experience many upsetting emotions, including sadness, shock, anger, disappointment, anxiety or depression. It’s important you speak with your medical team so they can help you and your family through your recovery.

As well as speaking to your doctor or midwife for advice, you can get help and information from:

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Last reviewed: February 2020

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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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