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Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Nov;38(5):503-9. doi: 10.1002/uog.10075. Epub 2011 Oct 13.

Gestational sac and embryonic growth are not useful as criteria to define miscarriage: a multicenter observational study.

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Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology (IRDB), Imperial College London, Hammersmith Campus, London, UK.



We studied changes in mean gestational sac diameter (MSD) and embryonic crown-rump length (CRL) in intrauterine pregnancies of uncertain viability (IPUVs). We aimed to establish cut-off values for MSD and CRL growth that could be definitively associated with either viability or miscarriage, and to establish the relationship between growth in MSD and appearance of embryonic structures in the gestational sac.


One thousand and sixty consecutive IPUVs were recruited prospectively from four London University hospitals: 462 with no yolk sac or embryo, 419 with a yolk sac but no embryo, and 179 with an embryo but no heartbeat visible. IPUV was defined as an empty gestational sac with or without a yolk sac but no embryo seen with MSD < 20 or < 30 mm (depending on center) or an embryo with no heartbeat and CRL < 6 mm or < 8 mm (depending on center). Scans were repeated 7-14 days later. The endpoint was viability at first-trimester screening ultrasonography between 11 and 14 weeks. Change in MSD and CRL between the first and second scans of each pregnancy was compared with respect to viability and appearance of embryonic structures using the two-sample t-test.


The study included 359 pregnancies in which a gestational sac with or without embryo was identified at the follow-up scan 7-14 days later. Of these, 192 were viable and 167 non-viable at the 11-14-week scan. MSD growth was significantly higher in viable than non-viable pregnancies (mean 1.003 vs. 0.503 mm/day; P < 0.001, 95% CI of difference 0.403-0.596). A difference in CRL growth was found between the two groups (mean 0.673 vs. 0.148 mm/day; P < 0.001, 95% CI of difference 0.345-0.703). MSD growth of 0.6 mm/day was associated with a specificity for diagnosing miscarriage of 90.1%, a sensitivity of 61.7% and 19 false-positive test results. A cut-off of CRL growth rate of 0.2 mm/day gave a sensitivity of 76.3% and there were no false-positive test results for miscarriage. On repeat scan the failure of either a yolk sac or embryo to be visualized was always associated with miscarriage.


There is an overlap in MSD growth rates between viable and non-viable IPUV. No cut-off exists for MSD growth below which a viable pregnancy could be safely excluded. A cut-off value for CRL growth of 0.2 mm/day was always associated with miscarriage. These data suggest that criteria to diagnose miscarriage based on growth in MSD and CRL are potentially unsafe. However, finding an empty gestational sac on two scans more than 7 days apart is highly likely to indicate miscarriage, irrespective of growth.

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