Chemical Pregnancy Signs And Symptoms: Early Miscarriage

What Is A Chemical Pregnancy? What To Know About This Form Of Early Loss

July 27, 2020 Updated September 24, 2020

chemical pregnancy
fizkes/Getty

Popping positive on a pregnancy test when you’re trying to conceive is one of the happiest feelings in the world. So, when you then get your period following the high from that positive, it’s devastating — and confusing. What happened? Where did things go wrong? One possible explanation for this heartbreak could be a chemical pregnancy.

First and foremost, *hugs.* Getting (and staying) pregnant can be a gutting journey, and what you’re going through hurts. Your feelings in this moment, whatever they may be, are valid. Let yourself feel them. But also, know that suffering a chemical pregnancy doesn’t mean you won’t one day welcome a sweet little bundle of joy into your world. Here’s what it does mean.

What is a chemical pregnancy?

Also referred to as a biochemical pregnancy, a chemical pregnancy is an early pregnancy loss that takes place when an egg gets fertilized but the embryo never fully implants in the uterus.

Is a chemical pregnancy the same as a miscarriage?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a miscarriage is defined as the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week. Since a chemical pregnancy (or a blighted ovum) is the loss of a pregnancy, yes, this is considered a form of miscarriage. In fact, experts speculate that chemical pregnancies may account for 50 to 75 percent of all miscarriages.

When does a chemical pregnancy usually happen?

Chemical pregnancies typically take place very early in the pregnancy, so before or around five weeks. Because it takes place so early, many women don’t even realize they’ve had one unless they’re taking regular pregnancy tests.

Why do they call it chemical pregnancy?

When you’re talking about something as natural as conceiving a child and as emotional as losing it, hearing such a clinical term used feels… jarring. However, “chemical” is simply a straightforwardly scientific way of referring to this form of miscarriage.

It’s been named this way because it occurs when levels of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) become elevated enough to produce a positive pregnancy test result but then dip back down before your doctor ever gets to see the gestational sac via ultrasound.

Are blighted ovum considered a chemical pregnancy?

They can be. A blighted ovum is a fertilized egg that attaches to the uterine wall but doesn’t develop into an embryo. If a blighted ovum occurs within the early parameters of a chemical pregnancy then it could very well be considered one.

Are there any symptoms?

While chemical pregnancies often go undetected, there are some indicators that can serve as signs. Often, the first and only symptom of a chemical pregnancy is a missed (or late) period. If you happen to take a pregnancy test shortly into your late cycle, you may get another quote-unquote symptom: a positive pregnancy test. Other possible symptoms of a chemical pregnancy include mild spotting the week before your period, mild abdominal cramping, and a late period.

Can chemical pregnancy be prevented?

In an ideal world, there would be preventative measures for tragedies like chemical pregnancies. Unfortunately, we live in a very real, very imperfect world. Bad things happen to good people, and they can’t always be prevented. Chemical pregnancies fall under that umbrella, because they’re most often caused by random chromosomal abnormalities that we can not prevent or often predict.

There are some risk factors associated with a chemical pregnancy, though. These include being 35 or older, suffering from untreated clotting disorders or thyroid conditions, and having other medical conditions (such as severe, uncontrolled diabetes). So, while a chemical pregnancy can’t be prevented, per se, you may be able to lower your risk of having one with routine physicals/wellness checks with your primary care physician. As with recurring miscarriages, if you have had or suspect you have had multiple chemical pregnancies, it’s best to talk to your OB-GYN who may be able to offer further testing and diagnostics to get to the root of the issue.

Can bleeding after a positive pregnancy test be something else?

If you start spotting or bleeding shortly after celebrating a positive pregnancy test, don’t despair just yet. It could be a chemical pregnancy — but it could also be implantation bleeding. Per the American Pregnancy Association, implantation bleeding is considered an early pregnancy symptom. Typically, it is lighter than the bleeding you’d experience during a chemical pregnancy.

Regardless, the Mayo Clinic suggests calling your healthcare provider immediately if you have any vaginal bleeding that lasts longer than a few hours. Call the same day if you have light bleeding that goes away within a few hours. In short, you need to run any bleeding by your obstetrician.

Is a chemical pregnancy similar to an ectopic pregnancy?

While a chemical pregnancy and an ectopic both result in pregnancy loss, they are different from each other. An ectopic pregnancy, often referred to as a tubal pregnancy, is one where the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. If not detected or treated in time it can cause scarring, rupture, or internal bleeding and should be treated immediately.

Does a chemical pregnancy affect fertility?

It’s natural to feel disheartened over a chemical pregnancy. A sense of hopelessness might even creep in if you have more than one. Here’s the thing, though: Having a chemical pregnancy, as heartbreaking as the loss is, has a silver lining. You lost a pregnancy and that’s a loss you’ll need to grieve. But when you’re ready to try again, you now know that you can conceive. An embryo reached the preimplantation phase of development, which means your body was on the right track.

Having said all of that, you should always confer with your doctor after a miscarriage — and especially after recurrent miscarriages. There could be an underlying cause that requires treatment.