Limitations of current definitions of miscarriage using mean gestational sac diameter and crown-rump length measurements: a multicenter observational study

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Nov;38(5):497-502. doi: 10.1002/uog.10109. Epub 2011 Oct 13.


Objectives: There is significant variation in cut-off values for mean gestational sac diameter (MSD) and embryo crown-rump length (CRL) used to define miscarriage, values suggested in the literature ranging from 13 to 25 mm for MSD and from 3 to 8 mm for CRL. We aimed to define the false-positive rate (FPR) for the diagnosis of miscarriage associated with different CRL and MSD measurements with or without a yolk sac in a large study population of patients attending early pregnancy clinics. We also aimed to define cut-off values for CRL and MSD that, on the basis of a single measurement, can definitively diagnose a miscarriage and so exclude possible inadvertent termination of pregnancy.

Methods: This was an observational cross-sectional study. Data were collected prospectively according to a predefined protocol. Intrauterine pregnancy of uncertain viability (IPUV) was defined as an empty gestational sac or sac with a yolk sac but no embryo seen with MSD < 20 or < 30 mm or an embryo with an absent heartbeat and CRL < 6 mm or < 8 mm. We recruited to the study 1060 consecutive women with IPUV. The endpoint was presence or absence of a viable pregnancy at the time of first-trimester screening ultrasonography between 11 and 14 weeks. The sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values were calculated for potential cut-off values to define miscarriage from MSD 8 to 30 mm with or without a yolk sac and from CRL 3 to 8 mm.

Results: Of the 1060 women with a diagnosis of IPUV, 473 remained viable and 587 were non-viable by the time of the 11-14-week scan. In the absence of both embryo and yolk sac, the FPR for miscarriage was 4.4% when an MSD cut-off of 16 mm was used and 0.5% for a cut-off of 20 mm. There were no false-positive test results for miscarriage when a cut-off of MSD ≥ 21 mm was used. If a yolk sac was present but an embryo was not, the FPR for miscarriage was 2.6% for an MSD cut-off of 16 mm and 0.4% for a cut-off of 20 mm, with no false-positive results when a cut-off of MSD ≥ 21 mm was used. When an embryo was visible with an absent heartbeat, using a CRL cut-off of 4 mm the FPR for miscarriage was 8.3%, and for a CRL cut-off of 5 mm it was also 8.3%. There were no false-positive results using a CRL cut-off of ≥ 5.3 mm.

Conclusions: These data show that some current definitions used to diagnose miscarriage are potentially unsafe. Current national guidelines should be reviewed to avoid inadvertent termination of wanted pregnancies. An MSD cut-off of > 25 mm and a CRL cut-off of > 7 mm could be introduced to minimize the risk of a false-positive diagnosis of miscarriage.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / classification
  • Abortion, Spontaneous / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Crown-Rump Length*
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Gestational Sac / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • London
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*