22 February 2023

What is a chemical pregnancy?

what is a chemical pregnancy
By the Editorial Comitee IVI Blog

What is a chemical pregnancy? A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage, detectable through biochemical means – a home pregnancy test or a blood test. It is not detectable through an ultrasound scan or the presence of a fetal heartbeat.

For someone who is longing to become pregnant, it can be just as devastating as any other miscarriage. For others, it is even possible to have a chemical pregnancy without ever realizing that they were pregnant at all. The miscarriage is so early on in the development of the pregnancy that it can easily be mistaken for a slightly late period. In this article, we’ll try to answer the most common questions we are asked about chemical pregnancy. When does a chemical pregnancy happen? What are the symptoms of a chemical pregnancy? How long does a chemical pregnancy last. Above all, is there anything you can do to prevent it from happening again and what treatment may be needed?

When does a chemical pregnancy happen?

A chemical pregnancy can happen to anyone. Doctors estimate that around a third of all miscarriages are of this type. The exact cause is not known, but it is believed that a chemical pregnancy happens when an egg has been fertilized but then ceases to develop quite soon afterwards. This happens often because of a chromosomal abnormality which prevents the possibility of development in the normal way. This is not the fault of either partner. In most cases, the fact you have had a chemical pregnancy does not prevent you from trying again and going on to have a normal pregnancy and healthy delivery.

It is not predictable and it’s not the result of something you or your partner have or have not done. However, there are certain risk factors associated with a chemical pregnancy. These include:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions such as a blood clotting disorder or diabetes
  • A thyroid disorder
  • Maternal age of over 35
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome.

The miscarriage happens at such an early stage in the pregnancy that the fertilized egg may not even have implanted in the lining of the womb. It happens during the first five weeks of the pregnancy. So, it would usually occur within a week of your missed period – hence the possibility of mistaking the early miscarriage for nothing more than a late period.

Chemical pregnancy symptoms

When the miscarriage happens, it may be that it feels like a slightly heavier than normal period or could simply seem to be like a normal period. Because it happens so early on, your body will not have had the chance to develop the hormonal changes that cause the most usual pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness or fatigue.

Since the only real symptom is a late period, you may only know that you’ve had a chemical pregnancy when you have had a faint positive result on a home pregnancy test but a week or so later the same test returns a negative result. This is because the fertilized egg cells produce just enough human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the chemical that is detected by pregnancy tests, to return a positive result before it stops developing. The only other signs you may have of a chemical pregnancy could include:

  • Mild cramping or more cramping than you usually experience during your period
  • Mild spotting a week before your period would have been due
  • Low hCG levels which can show up on a blood test.

How long does a chemical pregnancy last?

Its duration is short, within the first five weeks of pregnancy. Although, the feelings it causes can vary from just a little sadness to a sense of loss and grief which can be just as intense as for a miscarriage at any stage. There is no single correct response. If your feelings are particularly intense, it’s important to recognize them as valid and you may need to give yourself time to recover.

Grief can be very isolating. That’s why it’s very important to seek help, ideally from an understanding partner, friend, or family member. You can also look for a support group or a professional counsellor. Physically, the aftermath is likely to be slight or non-existent. You could safely try for another pregnancy straight away, but emotionally you may need to give yourself whatever time it takes to regain your sense of balance.

What can you do to prevent it?

There is very little that anyone can do to guard against a chemical pregnancy. Some fertility experts advise that you should consider prenatal vitamin supplements if there is any chance you may become pregnant. It’s advisable to have a generally healthy lifestyle. Apart from this, it seems to be a matter of unfortunate chance. It’s important to remember that between 10% and 20% of all pregnancies end in some type of miscarriage. Keep in mind also that most people who suffer a miscarriage can go on to have a subsequent normal pregnancy without any problems.

Treatment for a chemical pregnancy

The likelihood is that you will not have a recurrence or any future problems. Anyway, if you experience more than one chemical pregnancy, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor or a fertility specialist. The specialist will see whether there is some underlying cause and some remedial action that could be helpful. For example, an undiagnosed infection could have caused the problem and antibiotic treatment could be effective in preventing a recurrence. It’s also possible that a structural problem with your uterus, which is treatable with surgery, could have been the cause.

How can IVI help?

If you’re feeling that you need advice or help with your fertility, it’s easy to come and talk to us at IVI. There are many possible causes of fertility problems, and almost as many solutions. You could arrange for a diagnostic study following implantation failure and recurrent miscarriage. One of the well-known assisted fertility treatments such as Artificial Insemination (AI) or In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) can overcome a wide variety of causes of infertility.

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