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“Miscarriage or period?” is a question I hear far too often.
“My period started a few days late and it’s way heavier than usual.” Everyone who emails me about this wants to know the same thing: how do I know if this is a miscarriage or period?
The unfortunate answer is that it isn’t always easy to tell the difference–very early miscarriages are really similar to heavy periods.
But, if you’re further along than about 5 weeks and someone tells you that it’ll be like a heavy period, don’t trust them. Learn what to expect when miscarrying at different gestational ages.
Not knowing what’s happening with your body can be both harmful and frustrating. I’m here to help.
While the best way to find out if you’re having an early miscarriage or a period is to see your doctor, I’ll tell you what you need to know while you’re waiting for that to happen.
Why is Knowing the Difference Between a Miscarriage and A Period so Hard?
Because losing a pregnancy has the main symptoms of your monthly menstrual cycle–bleeding and abdominal cramping–it can be hard to distinguish between the two if you have an early loss.
Early signs of miscarriage, as frustrating as it is, look much like a period.
We often hear that a miscarriage is “like a heavy period.” And if you lose a pregnancy within about a week of your expected period, this can be true (though it isn’t necessarily).
There are many different types of miscarriage. Very early losses are often called a “chemical pregnancies.” This is a phrase that refers to a miscarriage that occurs before anything would be visible on an ultrasound.
But despite early occurrence and a name that suggests that there was barely a pregnancy at all, such losses can still be gut wrenching. If you’re grieving this type of loss, please know that your grief is valid.
Period vs Miscarriage: Which Is It?
In a very early loss, many women are unsure if they’re experiencing a miscarriage or a period. There are a few things to look for to help you distinguish between the two.
- Duration of cramps: You know how long your period normally lasts; count the number of days and see if anything seems abnormal.
- Amount of blood: Are you bleeding more than you normally do during a typical menstrual cycle? If the bleeding is significantly heavier, an early miscarriage is possible.
- Intensity of cramps: Is your period normally this intense? Do your cramps feel more severe, or do they occur at regular intervals? These could be signs of an early miscarriage.
- Presence of tissue: When you experience pregnancy loss, even early, you’ll likely pass some tissue. Passing tissue is a definite sign that this may be more than your usual period.
- Blood clots: Some women pass clots during their period, but if you don’t, and you start passing clots, it could definitely be a sign of an early miscarriage. Pay attention to whether you pass clots and whether they’re larger/more frequent than normal.
Even with all this knowledge in hand you probably want to KNOW what’s happening to your body.
Even though you know you best, the way to determine if you’re experiencing a heavy period or an early miscarriage is to see your doctor for a pregnancy test.
If you don’t have access to your doctor or want to know without leaving home, you can also take a pregnancy test at home and then go to the doctor.
Even if you’re very early in a pregnancy, your body produces human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone, often known as the “pregnancy hormone.”
During an early loss, your body will have begun producing this hormone, so if a pregnancy test is positive, then you can feel confident you’re experiencing an early miscarriage.
What Does Miscarriage Tissue Look Like?
I can’t tell you how often people send me private messages asking this question.
They want to see tissue or miscarriage blood clot pictures, and they often want to know the difference between miscarriage and period clots.
When you pass tissue during an early loss, it’s likely that you’re passing the gestational sac (the cavity of fluid surrounding the embryo), which is often coated in dark blood, but when cleaner, may be clearer or translucent in color.
Many women have told me that a gestational sac is especially dense compared to their normal period blood clots.
I’m not going to include any photos in this article, as they’re very graphic and, having experienced multiple losses, I personally find them triggering. I do not want to traumatize any of our readers.
Many of our community members have been so generous, however, as to share photos of their losses for the benefit of struggling women looking for photos.
Please know that these pictures may be disturbing, that they are for informational purposes only and that no liability is assumed.
By choosing to download and view this document, you are responsible for your choices, actions, and results taken by viewing these photos.
If, at any time, you find these photos to be distressing, anxiety provoking, or otherwise causing physical or emotional difficulties, please stop use immediately and contact a qualified health or mental health professional.
When Should You Call Your Doctor?
Personally, I recommend contacting your doctor if you even suspect a miscarriage.
They can test your blood or urine to confirm pregnancy. And, importantly, they can monitor you to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible and that no later complications, such as infection, arise.
If you choose not to contact your doctor “in case” it’s a heavy period, please DO contact them if you experience symptoms like heavy bleeding, passing clots or tissue, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
If you are bleeding through a menstrual pad an hour (or more), please go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Remember that I am not a medical doctor, and this informative information does not replace medical advice. I ALWAYS advise seeing your doctor if you even suspect a possible miscarriage.
Takeaways: Early Miscarriage vs Period
Distinguishing between a heavy period and an early miscarriage isn’t always as straightforward as you’d like it to be. But, there are still many ways to to tell if you’re having an early loss.
Look for heavy bleeding that occurs at the same time as uterine cramps, passing blood clots or tissue, and cramping that is heavier than normal or occurs at specific intervals.
I always recommend contacting your doctor to be sure. If you don’t feel like you can contact your doctor over the possibility of an early loss, I suggest finding a new, more caring doctor.
Tell us your story. Was it a miscarriage or period?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.