Chemical Pregnancy: The Signs and Causes

Did you get your period after a positive pregnancy test? There’s a chance you may have had a chemical pregnancy, which is an early miscarriage. While it can be confusing and disheartening, a chemical pregnancy is no cause for alarm. Most women who experience early miscarriages are fully able to conceive.

In this article, we’ll discuss what it is, the signs, potential causes, and how to recover.

What is a Chemical Pregnancy?

A chemical pregnancy is a type of miscarriage where the pregnancy is lost early. The loss occurs after implantation and after a pregnancy test can detect pregnancy, because the body has started to produce more of the hCG hormone. The loss occurs before the baby can be seen on an ultrasound.  Chemical pregnancies occur in the fourth or fifth week of gestation, which is about the same time as a normal menstrual period. Sometimes women don’t realize they were even pregnant because the miscarriage can seem like a late period.

Chemical pregnancies are common, and experts say that chemical pregnancies account for 70% of all conceptions. Chemical pregnancies account for about 8% to 33% of miscarriages, and 18% to 22% of in vitro fertilization (IVF) pregnancies.

Signs of an Early Miscarriage

It’s easy to mistake a chemical pregnancy for a regular period because the symptoms are similar to a late menstrual period. The miscarriage symptoms will occur between the fourth and fifth week of pregnancy. They are:

  • Mild to moderate stomach cramping
  • Light spotting a week before the period is due
  • Low hCG levels on a blood test
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Late period
  • An early positive pregnancy test

It is important to note that spotting can occur with a successful pregnancy. Bleeding can occur when the embryo attaches itself to the uterus, which can disrupt blood vessels along the uterine lining. The spotting can be pink or brownish. This kind of spotting is called implantation bleeding and is normally about 10-14 days after conception.

Women will not experience common pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and fatigue because the pregnancy doesn’t last long enough and hCg levels typically aren’t high enough to develop those symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of chemical pregnancies is never known, but they typically occur because the embryo has some sort of chromosomal abnormality. The body recognizes the nonviable embryo and terminates it after the egg implants, or the egg may not implant at all. Chromosomal abnormalities can happen to anyone and there isn’t a way to prevent them from happening.

Some other common causes are:

  • Implantation outside the uterus
  • Infections such as chlamydia or syphilis
  • Abnormal hormone levels
  • Uterine abnormalities
  • Low weight
  • Improper implantation

Even though you can’t prevent a chemical pregnancy, there are some risk factors that can increase your chances of having one. One of the most common risks is women undergoing IVF treatment. Some other common risk factors are:

  • A clotting disorder
  • A thyroid condition
  • Diabetes
  • Age 35 or older
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Is Chemical Pregnancy a Real Pregnancy?

In a sense, a chemical pregnancy is a real pregnancy because conception occurred. It also means the embryo was lost very early on in the pregnancy.

A false positive pregnancy test doesn’t automatically mean you had a chemical pregnancy. You can get a false pregnancy test for multiple reasons, but a chemical pregnancy usually occurs because there is a chromosomal abnormality in the embryo. You can get a false positive pregnancy test due to medications, user error, ectopic pregnancies, and medical conditions such as ovarian cysts, kidney disease, and pituitary problems.

Treatment Options

Chemical pregnancies occur so early on in the pregnancy that no treatment is typically necessary to recover. The couple is usually able to start trying to get pregnant again right away. But you should alert your doctor of your early miscarriage. They may want to run some tests to see if there are any underlying causes. For example, if an infection caused the miscarriage, the doctor can prescribe antibiotics.

If you have suffered multiple chemical pregnancies, your doctor may refer you to a fertility specialist to rule out any medical causes.

How To Recover

The good news is that many doctors consider chemical pregnancies a good sign because it means you can get pregnant. Chemical pregnancies do not reflect your ability to conceive a child. If you have an underlying cause for early miscarriages, you may be able to receive treatment. However, it is always devastating to lose a pregnancy.

Remember that the miscarriage is not your fault. Early pregnancies are unavoidable and you cannot stop or prevent them. For those who suffer from extreme anxiety, some doctors may recommend not taking early pregnancy tests. If you’re nervous, it’s wise to wait until a late period to take a test.

Women who suffer chemical pregnancies can experience varying degrees of grief. Remember that your feelings are valid, whether you’re a little sad or completely devastated. Everyone feels differently and there is no single right response. If you need time to recover from your loss, you are allowed to take it. Reach out to your support system for help. If you need extra support, you can talk to a mental health professional.

Chemical pregnancies are common and many women experience them. Talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying causes and take your time to heal. When you’re ready, you can start trying again.

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