First trimester bleeding evaluation

Ultrasound Q. 2005 Jun;21(2):69-85; quiz 149-50, 153-4.


First trimester bleeding is a common presentation in the emergency room. Ultrasound evaluation of patients with first trimester bleeding is the mainstay of the examination. The important causes of first trimester bleeding include spontaneous abortion, ectopic pregnancy, and gestational trophoblastic disease; 50% to 70% of spontaneous abortions are due to genetic abnormalities. In normal pregnancy, the serum beta hCG doubles or increases by at least 66% in 48 hours. The intrauterine GS should be visualized by TVUS with beta hCG levels between 1000 to 2000 mIU/mL IRP. Visualization of the yolk sac within the gestational sac is definitive evidence of intrauterine pregnancy. Embryonic cardiac activity can be identified with CRL of >5 mm. A GS with a mean sac diameter (MSD) of 8 mm or more without a yolk sac and a GS with an MSD of 16 mm or more without an embryo, are important predictors of a nonviable gestation. A GS with a mean sac diameter of 16 mm or more (TVUS) without an embryo is a sonographic sign of anembryonic gestation. A difference of <5 mm between the mean sac diameter and the CRL carries an 80% risk of spontaneous abortion. Approximately 20% of women with first trimester bleeding have a subchorionic hematoma. The presence of an extra ovarian adnexal mass is the most common sonographic finding in ectopic pregnancy. Other findings include the tubal ring sign and hemorrhage. About 26% of ectopic pregnancies have normal pelvic sonograms on TVUS. Complete hydatidiform mole presents with a complex intrauterine mass with multiple anechoic areas of varying sizes (Snowstorm appearance). Twenty-five percent to 65% of molar pregnancies have associated theca-leutin cysts. Arteriovenous malformation of the uterus is a rare but life-threatening cause of vaginal bleeding in the first trimester. The sonographic findings in a patient with first trimester bleeding should be correlated with serum beta hCG levels to arrive at an appropriate clinical diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / methods*
  • Uterine Hemorrhage / diagnostic imaging*
  • Uterine Hemorrhage / etiology