Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hundreds of women may be losing healthy babies due to mistaken diagnosis of miscarriage

Sensitive: Women are discovering they are pregnant at an earlier stage than in the past thanks to ultra-sensitive home pregnancy tests

Hundreds of women may be losing healthy babies every year because they are incorrectly diagnosed as having suffered a miscarriage, experts have warned.

Modern home pregnancy tests are now so sensitive that women are discovering they are pregnant earlier - meaning many who fear they have miscarried are attending hospital at an earlier stage than in the past. Because a hospital scan cannot detect the earliest signs of life, it may fail to pick up a present heartbeat, leading doctors to remove a healthy foetus, according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. As many as 400 women may be losing healthy babies every year because of a mistaken diagnosis of miscarriage.

Glasgow University's Mary Ann Lumsden - who helped to develop new guidance published by NICE today - said in more than half of those cases the misdiagnosis was the result of ultra-sensitive home pregnancy tests.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph the professor of gynaecology said she had 'seen mistakes made' by doctors who had acted too soon. The new NICE guidelines urge doctors not to operate to remove a foetus within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.

Women should also be advised that they might still be carrying a healthy baby, even if a scan fails to detect any positive signs, the guidelines state. Some home pregnancy testing kits, which detect early hormonal changes, are so sensitive a woman can discover she is pregnant before she has even missed her period.

Professor Lumsden said this meant some expectant mothers who feared they had suffered a miscarriage were attending hospital at a stage when it was 'impossible' to make a final diagnosis. 'Sometimes this leads to women having surgical intervention early on,' she said. 'Women are told that the pregnancy is unviable at a very early stage.'

Today's NICE report also calls on doctors to be more sympathetic to pregnant women in danger of losing their babies. It said doctors do not give enough information or support to women at risk of suffering a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy - where the egg will not develop into a baby.

Professor Lumsden said: 'It actually does not cost a great deal to be sympathetic and we try and get across that it is something that happens to a lot of women, but for each woman it is a unique event even if it happens more than once. 'We must recognise people's distress. We do recommend that staff are trained in dealing sensitively with giving information and that they get trained repeatedly.'

Dr Nicola Davies, a GP who also helped with the report, said: 'As a junior doctor, seeing people bleeding in pregnancy every hour, we do become very hard to it and do not give people time.'

According to Nice, one in five pregnancies results in a miscarriage and 11 out of 1,000 are ectopic, meaning there are more than 50,000 early pregnancy losses in the UK annually.

Between 2006 and 2008, six women died from ectopic pregnancies and two-thirds of those deaths were associated with sub-standard care. The report recommends early pregnancy assessment services to try and diagnose ectopic pregnancies, which are frequently missed by doctors, and a 24-hour phone service.


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