• Dr Peter Chew

“Abortion“ and “Miscarriage”. Are they the same?

“I am baffled by the medical terms, “abortion” and “miscarriage”. I always believed that they are two different medical conditions. Recently I had a miscarriage and had a D&C (Dilatation and Curettage) done. I was taken aback when my doctor labelled the miscarriage as a “missed abortion” in my discharge summary. I was confused. I told him that I had planned for this pregnancy for a while and I did not ask for an abortion. In order to allay my feelings of guilt, can you please explain to me the difference between these two terms?”


This was the question posed to me by a member of the audience at the seminar I had recently spoken in. To most people, an abortion is different from a miscarriage. “Abortion” refers to the termination of pregnancy using artificial means, whereas “miscarriage” means demise of the foetus from natural causes. However, to medical professionals, the term “abortion” is a generalised one. It refers to the expulsion of the contents of the uterus in early pregnancy, without making any distinction whether it is a spontaneous and induced event. Thus, the confusion.


According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in the United States of America, a miscarriage is called a 'spontaneous abortion', in which the unborn baby has an unintended death due to naturally occurring events like genetic or developmental abnormalities.


If the baby is expelled completely it is called a “complete abortion”, otherwise it is labelled as an “incomplete abortion”. Sometimes the baby may not be formed properly or has died inside the womb. The mother may have minimal or no symptoms of bleeding and abdominal cramps. This is called a “missed abortion” as the patient may not realise that the pregnancy loss has occurred. Termination of pregnancy or “abortion” in layman’s term, on the other hand, is known by the medical terminology “induced abortion”, in which the baby is still alive and is expelled unnaturally by either medical or surgical means.


Over the years, some eminent gynaecologists have tried to advocate differentiating the usage of these 2 terms in the medical community, but their efforts have not been very successful. The term “abortion” continues to be used to describe “miscarriage”.


Personally, I prefer to use the term “miscarriage”, rather than “abortion”, when dealing with early pregnancy loss with my patients. The term conveys empathy, and will help in easing grieving process of the patient.

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