Placenta previa: an uncommon, yet risky complication Placenta previa: an uncommon, yet risky complication

The placenta, the organ that serves as the connection between the mother and her baby, grows and moves throughout the duration of pregnancy along with the stretching of the uterus.

If the placenta lowers and manages to obstruct the cervix during the last trimester, this is a sign to take precautions. Obstetrician and gynecologist, José Fernando Vélez tells us about this uncommon, yet very risky condition for expecting mothers.

How does this condition happen?
Placenta previa is a dislocation of the placenta in the uterus that affects about less than 1% of pregnancies, yet is a major cause of serious complications such as hemorrhaging, anemia and serious problems with delivery.

What happens when this complication occurs is that the placenta occludes the cervix as it is not high enough up in the uterus. Women experience vaginal bleeding from this obstruction which may put both the life of the mother and the baby at risk.

How can it be detected on time?
“Diagnosing it is very easy to do with an ultrasound usually performed during the third trimester of pregnancy, as it is common for the placenta to experiences changes in position during the first trimesters, which is not problematic for the pregnancy and generally only becomes a problem if this dislocated position persists after 32 weeks of pregnancy.
If a diagnosis is not made through an ultrasound, the woman generally experiences heavy, painless, red and unprovoked vaginal bleeding, which should lead her to visit her doctor. Generally, this bleeding stops spontaneously and a proper diagnosis and corresponding treatment can be made.”

How can it be treated?
“Managing this serious condition consists in avoiding excessive physical activity, treating the development of the baby’s lungs when the baby is premature and monitoring it with ultrasounds to assess changes in the placenta’s position that may affect a vaginal birth. If placenta previa persists through the last weeks of pregnancy, a vaginal birth should not be allowed and a C-section should be scheduled around week 37.”

Placenta previa is more common when surgeries in the uterus have been conducted, particularly previous cesarean sections. Dr. Vélez emphasizes that this is one of the reasons why it is very important to try to have vaginal births.