miscarriage

RECENT POSTS

Tragically Wrong: When Good Early Pregnancies Are Misdiagnosed As Bad

An ultrasound of a pregnancy at six-and-a-half weeks (meaning that it was done two-and-a-half weeks after the woman's missed period.) The pregnancy sac  is outlined by four short arrows within the uterus and the embryo is within the pregnancy sac. (Courtesy P. Doubillet)

An ultrasound scan of a normal pregnancy at six-and-a-half weeks (meaning that it was done two-and-a-half weeks after the woman’s missed period.) The pregnancy sac is outlined by the four arrows and the embryo is within the pregnancy sac. (Courtesy P. Doubilet)

A beautiful, supremely talented young friend of our family recently fell victim to a terrible medical mistake. Newly married, she was having some pelvic pain and bleeding, and the doctor who saw her diagnosed a probable ectopic pregnancy — an embryo that develops outside the womb. Concerned that such pregnancies can turn life-threatening, the doctor prescribed the standard treatment: methotrexate, a drug used for chemotherapy and to help induce abortions.

When our friend returned to be checked a few days later, the imaging revealed that in fact, the pregnancy had not been ectopic; it was in place, in her uterus. But because she had taken the methotrexate, a known cause of birth defects, her pregnancy was doomed.  She soon miscarried. What may have been a perfectly healthy pregnancy had been ended by well-meant medical treatment.

I assumed her horrifying case was an exceedingly rare medical fluke — until now. A paper just out in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine shows that such misdiagnosed pregnancies are part of a pattern — a pattern that needs to be changed. “Considerable evidence suggests that mistakes such as these are far from rare,” it says.

When I told our friend’s story to the paper’s lead author, Dr. Peter Doubilet, he responded that he knows of “dozens and dozens and dozens of similar cases that have come to lawsuits, and that’s probably the tip of the iceberg.” There is even a Facebook group, Misdiagnosed Ectopic, Given Methotrexate, run by a mother given methotrexate whose daughter was born with major birth defects.

The New England Journal of Medicine paper stems from a panel of international experts who resolved to change medical practice to stop such misdiagnoses. I spoke with Dr. Doubilet, who is senior vice chair of radiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School. Our conversation, lightly edited:

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the problem, what’s the upshot for women of child-bearing age? What’s your message to them?

When a woman gets pregnant, a number of serious complications can occur early in pregnancy, including miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. When a doctor diagnoses these problems within the first two to three weeks after her missed period, it’s very traumatic to the patient and it’s critically important that the woman and the doctor are confident that the diagnosis is correct, because the steps that will be taken would harm a normal pregnancy if one is present.

Dr. Peter Doubilet (Courtesy)

Dr. Peter Doubilet (Courtesy)

It’s become apparent over the past two to three years that errors in diagnosis of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy occur more frequently than they should, and that’s why we put together a multi-specialty panel of expert doctors from radiology, obstetrics-gynecology and emergency medicine to come up with new, more stringent guidelines for diagnosing these complications, taking into account the most recent research on the subject.

And just to simplify, when a woman in very early pregnancy has been told that it appears that she has an ectopic pregnancy or a failed pregnancy, it would very rarely be overly risky — and often be wise — to wait a couple of days and be sure of the diagnosis before acting?

Yes. That’s a very important message. In 2010,  I, together with Dr. Carol Benson, wrote an editorial in The Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine entitled “First, do no harm to early pregnancies,” and that was the key message: Unless the doctor is sure that the woman has a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, the doctor should err on the side of waiting, as long as the woman is stable and shows no signs of serious internal bleeding.

If the patient meets definite criteria for a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, there’s no reason to wait, but if there’s any degree of uncertainty, the prudent thing is to wait. Continue reading

Daily Rounds: The Bush Miscarriage; Demanding Dr. Famous; Cholera Hits Port-Au-Prince; Romney’s Repudiation

Bush Recollection Puts Spotlight on Miscarriage – NYTimes.com “The image of a mother handing her teenage son a jar containing the remains of her just-miscarried fetus may be a disturbing one. But the scene, described by former President George W. Bush in his interview with Matt Lauer of NBC News on Monday night, has started a national conversation — both about his mother, Barbara Bush, and about the complex psychological fallout from miscarriage.” (The New York Times)

Running a hospital: I'm sorry, Doctor Famous is busy Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO Paul Levy writes: “What happens when a referring doctor insists that "Doctor Famous" see his or her patient, even when other physicians on the staff can do the job just as well? In Lean terms, waste is introduced into the system. As diagnosed below: The minute an additional seemingly unnecessary step is added to the flow it adds a huge delay.” (Running A Hospital)

Cholera Is Found in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – NYTimes.com “Medical officials say they believe that there are at least 73 cases here in the capital and, based on outbreaks in other countries, they fear that cholera may become a way of life that could afflict as many as 270,000 people over the next several years.” (The New York Times)

Rick Perry Calls On Mitt Romney To 'Repudiate' His Health Care Plan (VIDEO) “PERRY: I think it's a problem to go — if he were to stand up and say "You know what, this was a program that didn't work, and I wish I hadn't tried it" — I think that would help him substantially. But the fact is: they are so similar that it is going to be a major anchor unless he stands up and repudiates that approach.” (Huffington Post)