Chemical Pregnancy: A Very Early Stage Miscarriage

Successful pregnancy of a woman depends on several factors. However, at times a woman becomes pregnant but loses the child shortly after implantation of the embryo. This early pregnancy loss is known as a biochemical pregnancy. Miscarriages can happen because of many reasons and can happen at any stage of pregnancy. In this blog, we will try to understand what is a chemical pregnancy, how does it occur and are there any ways by which one can avoid it?

chemical-pregnancy
Chemical Pregnancy

What is Chemical Pregnancy?

A chemical pregnancy is a condition where an early miscarriage happens in the initial five weeks of pregnancy. Of all the miscarriages that occur, 50 to 75% of them are due to a chemical pregnancy. It is identified by substantial bleeding around the time of your normal period, right after you might get a positive pregnancy test. However, too early to be detected in an ultrasound scan.

It is one of the most widely known reasons for unsuccessful pregnancy; women don’t even come to know about this. The term “chemical pregnancy” is very confusing, and patients don’t have a clue whether they are pregnant or not. Although the term sounds like a false positive pregnancy test, it means that the woman was pregnant, but she has experienced an early pregnancy loss. With a blood test, your specialist can confirm the chemical pregnancy.

Symptoms of Chemical Pregnancy

In the initial stage, chemical pregnancies typically go unnoticed as they are very much like the menstrual periods. Women don’t get to know that they had a pregnancy ever and then suffered a spontaneous abortion. However, women who plan their pregnancy, and are monitoring their ovulation can see the changes in their body and come to know that they have had an abortion.

The signs and symptoms that a woman can notice in case of chemical pregnancy are:

  • A positive pregnancy test
  • Delay in their periods, particularly in the case when they have regular periods
  • Low levels of hCG hormone
  • Minor bleeding or spotting seven days before the expected date of periods
  • Vaginal bleeding even after testing positive for pregnancy can also be a sign of chemical pregnancy
  • Pain in the abdominal and pelvic regions
  • Passing more clots than normal
  • Cramps
  • A light period, particularly if you typically have heavy periods

Causes of Chemical Pregnancy

Most chemical pregnancies are expected to happen because the fertilised egg had a type of chromosomal anomaly that made it non-feasible from the beginning. When the body perceives this issue, it will generally end the pregnancy after the fertilised egg implants itself into the uterine lining, and this usually occurs about seven days after the expected date of your regular periods.

After ovulation, the egg is fertilised by the sperm. After a few days, this fertilised egg implants itself in the wall of the uterus. At this point, the hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) hormone starts flowing which is produced by the pregnancy cells and developing placental tissues. Now the hCG will pass into a woman’s system and will be present in both blood and urine samples. When the hCG hormone levels cross the threshold, it can be easily detected in blood and urine samples. However, in the case of a chemical pregnancy, your hCG hormones, rather than going up in their levels, go down which shows that you have had an early miscarriage.

The reason behind chemical pregnancy is not always apparent to the doctors. Most chemical pregnancies are found to happen because the fertilised egg had a type of chromosomal aberration. When the body perceives this, it will end the pregnancy just after the implantation occurs. These chromosomal abnormalities can result because of the low quality of the egg or the sperm that had fertilised it. It can also happen due to irregular cell division of the embryo.

Other reasons and factors that may result in chemical pregnancy include:

  • Uterus with innate or acquired abnormalities
  • Implantation of the embryo outside the uterus (ectopic or Pregnancy of unknown location- PUL)
  • A thin or weak lining of the uterus
  • Hormonal imbalances and irregularities in the body
  • Infections such as syphilis, toxoplasmosis, Chlamydia, etc.
  • Damaged ovum
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Luteal Phase Defect (deficiency of progesterone hormone)
  • Some conditions like thyroid, diabetes that are left untreated for an extended period

Chemical pregnancies are often seen in women who are undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF). A higher expectation of pregnancy with IVF may lead many couples to test more often than those conceiving normally.

What Happens During Chemical Pregnancy?

The fertilised egg (embryo) takes around 6 to 12 days on an average to embed itself in the uterus. At this time, the cells in the womb that would later develop into the placenta, start to release the hCG hormone in significant quantities which can be detected in a urine pregnancy test at home. However, it is still too soon to see the gestational sac in an ultrasound. During this stage, some factors can result in the loss of pregnancy with one of the crucial points being the quality of the embryo.

When conception occurs, the sperm cell fertilises the egg to form a single-celled embryo called a zygote. The zygote starts to develop by cell division. It is, during this procedure, certain abnormalities occur in the copying of the chromosomes. This procedure is random and can happen to anybody and is believed to be a reason behind many miscarriages at an early stage.

What is the Difference Between Chemical Pregnancy and Miscarriage?

On a basic level, miscarriage and chemical pregnancy are similar things. A chemical pregnancy is a type of miscarriage. The only difference between the two is the time of pregnancy loss. Miscarriages can happen at different stages of pregnancy. Chemical pregnancy happens due to a chromosomal abnormality in the embryo due to which a woman might have an early miscarriage that is just after the implantation occurs. The time commonly is around 3 to 4 weeks when the woman’s body is releasing sufficienthCG to give a positive test for pregnancy. At this stage, the gestational sac or placenta hasn’t started growing and is yet to be identified on an ultrasound.

However, in case of a miscarriage, it usually happens after six weeks or so when the pregnancy can be detected on an ultrasound scan. Hence the specialists would call it a miscarriage rather than a chemical pregnancy.

How Can Chemical Pregnancy Be Diagnosed?

If you have experienced the signs and symptoms, as already discussed, you may require a diagnosis for the chemical pregnancy. For that, the specialist will run some hCG hormone tests that would check for the change in the quantities of the hCG hormone in the body and urine. An increase would demonstrate a healthy pregnancy, and a decline would show a chemical pregnancy. The specialist will suggest an ultrasound to check for the embryo implantation. If the heartbeat isn’t found and if the hCG hormone level is found to be low, then it would confirm that chemical pregnancy has occurred. Counselling with a specialist is crucial here as ectopic pregnancies may also have similar symptoms which can be very dangerous for the women.

Treatment for Chemical Pregnancy

A chemical pregnancy doesn’t always mean you can’t get pregnant and have healthy childbirth. While there’s no treatment for this sort of pregnancy failure, there are alternatives that enable you to get pregnant.

A doctor might recommend a couple of tests to get done to evaluate your condition, to know the reason behind your miscarriage. If your doctor can identify and treat the cause, it can decrease the possibility of another chemical pregnancy. The doctor would also look for a treatable condition like some abnormality in the uterus or some infection. The medications and treatment methods in such cases include:

  • A medical procedure to treat a uterine anomaly
  • Antibiotics to counter any infection
  • Progesterone in case of the luteal phase defect
  • Baby aspirin medicine

You must also realise that a chemical pregnancy isn’t the only reason that makes the body to produce pregnancy hormones. Significant amounts of hCG can be detected with an ectopic pregnancy too. This is the condition in which the embryo implants outside the uterus. Since an ectopic pregnancy may mimic a healthy pregnancy, your specialist may run tests to eliminate this condition.

Getting Pregnant After Chemical Pregnancy

Chemical pregnancies happen too early in a pregnancy cycle that they generally don’t have a very pronounced impact on a woman’s body. If it happens once, then the couple can attempt to conceive again shortly after. However, several doctors suggest that you should at least wait for the next menstrual cycle and then only try to conceive. Whatever is your thought about this, you should consult with your doctor and then proceed. Similarly, it is better to run tests to check for any medical issues before trying to conceive again.

Fortunately, in a case where you have had an unsuccessful pregnancy, the odds are high that your next pregnancy will be healthy. However, if you have had multiple failed pregnancies, you may need to see a fertility specialist and go for some tests to know the reasons that were responsible for your recurrent miscarriage.

Chemical Pregnancy and IVF

Chemical pregnancies can be emotionally painful for the mother, regardless of how short the pregnancy was or the fact that the child was never born. However, a chemical pregnancy doesn’t mean that you can’t have a healthy pregnancy again. If you can recognise the reason for the chemical pregnancy, you have the chance to get appropriate treatment in time. The only point to be noticed here is that if you have experienced multiple chemical pregnancies and haven’t treated the problem, you may not be able to have a baby because of your growing age. Then resorting to IVF is recommended.

There is also a possibility of chemical pregnancy after the procedure of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). A blood test usually is done at 9 to 14 days after IVF to check for pregnancy. A blood test will come positive if implantation has occurred that is if the embryo has attached itself to the uterine lining. However, abnormalities in the embryos may cause a chemical pregnancy shortly after implantation. A miscarriage after an IVF treatment can be heart-breaking, but it is also a sign that you can get pregnant again. Another attempt at IVF may be successful. So, for couples who are attempting to have a child through IVF, a chemical pregnancy is a positive sign as it is an indicator of implantation and pregnancy and holds potential for further attempts to be fruitful. Related Questions on Chemical Pregnancy:

Related Questions On Chemical Pregnancy:

Q1. How common is a chemical pregnancy?

A) A chemical pregnancy is common. It happens in about 10% of known pregnancies. More than 50% of miscarriages are chemical pregnancies.

Q2. Can a woman be at higher risk of chemical pregnancy than others?

A) The probability of chemical pregnancy is higher in women in their late thirties or above. More than one-third of chemical pregnancy cases occur in women older than 40 years.

Q3. What is the possibility for me to have another child after a chemical pregnancy?

A) Pregnancy loss in the first few weeks usually happens once and shouldn’t interfere when you are planning pregnancy the second or third time. Most of the women go on to have successful pregnancies afterwards. If you are experiencing recurrent pregnancy loss, then contact your doctor to get to know the reason behind it.

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