NHS terms explained

Medical lingo can be confusing. We hope to clarify some of the medical terms commonly used in relation to miscarriage.

Early miscarriage

Is a miscarriage which happens in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Read more...

Late miscarriage

Is a miscarriage which happens after 12 weeks but before 24 weeks. Read more...


Is the loss of a pregnancy after 24 weeks. Read more...

Complete miscarriage

Is a loss that does not require clinical intervention for the pregnancy tissues to come away from your womb.

Incomplete miscarriage

is a miscarriage that begins naturally, but not all the pregnancy tissues come away from the womb. Read more...

Missed miscarriage

Is a miscarriage without any symptoms, so you may not realise that the baby has stopped growing or that anything is wrong until the loss is discovered at a routine scan. 

Delayed miscarriage

Is another term to describe missed miscarriage.

Recurrent miscarriage

Means having three or more miscarriages in a row. It affects around 1 in every 100 couples trying for a baby.

Ectopic pregnancy

A pregnancy where the baby develops outside the uterus, usually in one of the Fallopian tubes. Read more...

Molar pregnancy (also called Hydatidiform mole pregnancy)

If an egg is fertilised and contains the incorrect number of chromosomes, it can become a complete or partial molar pregnancy and the fetus won’t be able to develop properly. Read more...

Missed miscarriage (or silent miscarriage)

There are sometimes no signs or symptoms to show that the baby has stopped developing. There may be a slight easing off of common pregnancy symptoms but a missed miscarriage is when there is no bleeding. A couple might not discover they have miscarried until the scan.

Rhesus disease

A condition where antibodies in the mother’s body destroy her baby’s blood cells.

Tests and treatments

Expectant management

This is when you wait for any tissue left inside your womb to pass naturally out of it. Read more...

Medical management

A woman takes medication and this encourages the pregnancy tissue to pass out of your womb. Read more...

Surgical management

When the tissue is surgically removed. Also known as ERPC. Read more...

ERPC (Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception)

Small operation to remove any tissue that is left inside your uterus (womb) after a miscarriage. Another term for surgical management.


Medication inserted into your vagina.


Placebos are designed so that they cannot be told apart from a real drug or treatment, while having no medical effect. This allows scientists to see if a drug really makes a difference to a condition. Sometimes, simply thinking that you are taking medication can make you feel better – the placebo effect. So, if a drug really works, it should be more effective than taking a placebo. 

Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU)

This is the unit you’ll be referred to if you have any concerns during early pregnancy.

Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic (RMC)

Your GP will refer you here if you have experienced multiple miscarriages.

Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU)

This is the unit you’ll be referred to if you are having a miscarriage.

Ultrasound scan (or Sonogram)

High-frequency sound waves create an image of inside your body, for example the womb. It can be used to monitor a baby, make a diagnosis or help a surgeon during an operation. An external ultrasound uses an instrument (probe) which moves over the outside of your body to detect the sound waves. An internal ultrasound is when the probe is placed inside your body, for example the vagina, which is known as a Transvaginal scan (TVS).

Cervical stitch

A weakened cervix can be treated with a small stitch to keep it closed. This is usually done after 12 weeks of pregnancy and taken out around 37 weeks.

Other useful terms


Antibodies are produced by your immune system as a way to fight disease and infections. They attach themselves to a foreign antigen, such as bacteria or viruses, and weaken or destroy it.

Antiphospholipid syndrome (also known as Hughes’s syndrome, Sticky bloody syndrome, APS)

A condition that causes blood clots , which can prevent the placenta from developing properly.

Read more about this syndrome in the Miscarriage Association’s leaflet.

Blighted ovum (anembryonic pregnancy)

Cells stop growing early on and, instead of developing into a baby, the tiny embryo is reabsorbed. The pregnancy sac, where the baby should have grown, sometimes continues to develop.


The cervix is tissue that connects the vagina and the uterus (womb).


Used as building blocks in a baby’s development, these rod-shaped structures (usually found in pairs in a cell nucleus) carry the genes. These genes determine the sex of the baby and the characteristics a baby inherits from its parents. A human body cell usually contains 46 chromosomes arranged in 23 pairs (23 from the mother and 23 from the father).

Chromosomal abnormalities

If a baby carries too many or not enough chromosomes, it won’t develop properly.


A chemical secreted by an endocrine gland or some nerve cells. Hormones travel to different parts of the body where they help regulate and control how cells and organs do their work.

Lupus anticoagulant

An antibody to phospholipids in a cell that can cause clotting of blood in arteries and veins and lead to early miscarriage.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A psychological condition affecting people who have suffered severe emotional trauma causing sleep disturbances, flashbacks, anxiety, tiredness, and depression.

Stem cell

Special cells made by the body that can turn into many other types of cell.


  1. NHS Choices, Miscarriage http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/miscarriage/Pages/Introduction.aspx [accessed 25.01.17]
  2. NHS Choices, Miscarriage: What happens, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Miscarriage/Pages/Treatment.aspx [accessed 22.03.16]
  3. NHS Choices, Miscarriage – Prevention http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Miscarriage/Pages/Prevention.aspx [accessed 22.03.16]
  4. The Miscarriage Association, Causes, Test and Treatments http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/information/causes-tests-and-treatment/ [accessed 22.03.16]
  5. The Miscarriage Association, Blighted Ovum http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/wp/wp-content/leaflets/Blighted-Ovum.pdf [accessed 22.03.16]
  6. NHS Choices, Ultrasound Scan http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Ultrasound-scan/Pages/Introduction.aspx [accessed 22.03.16]
  7. NHS Choices, Rhesus disease http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Rhesus-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx [accessed 24.03.16]
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Last reviewed on August 1st, 2016. Next review date August 1st, 2019.

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