What Is A Chemical Pregnancy?

By Nancy Da Silva

You’ve just had a miscarriage. To make things even more tragic you may not have even been aware you were pregnant in the first place. Your doctor will explain your miscarriage as a ‘chemical pregnancy’. But what does that even mean? It sounds like something out of sci-fi television. A chemical pregnancy is basically defined as an early miscarriage that takes place before you expected your next period.

What may look like an early period that is a little heavier or longer than normal, turns out to be a miscarriage. So now you have to deal with what may seem like a double tragedy, the loss of a child you may never have known existed. Look out for clotting in the blood in a heavier period and maybe more severe cramping though some women may not have any symptoms that anything is out of the ordinary and think they are just getting their periods as normal.

Why does this happen and how do you deal with such a loss? Is there anything you can do to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in the future?

Though you may not be that familiar with the term, chemical pregnancies are sadly common and account for between 50-60% of all first trimester miscarriages though they are not as easily detected unless you’re trying to get pregnant and are very familiar with your ovulation schedule.

What causes a chemical pregnancy?

There are any number of reasons why a chemical pregnancy might occur, and sometimes the exact cause is never determined. The most common causes could be:

  • A genetic defect either passed down by the parent to the fetus or an abnormality the embryo has developed on its own due to cell division.
  • A thin uterine wall.
  • Obstructions in the uterus (ie fibroids)
  • A compromised immune system as a result of infection due to herpes, Chlamydia, syphilis or a thyroid condition.

There is even some research to suggest a link between hair dye and an increased risk of chemical pregnancies. If you’re planning to try and conceive, you may want to skip the trip to the salon to color your hair just to keep the odds in your favor.

While there are some things that can be done to prevent future miscarriages, many doctors won’t really take active action until a pattern of chemical pregnancies has occurred because most women who experience chemical pregnancies will have full term healthy babies later on.

But if you are trying to get pregnant and have experienced a chemical pregnancy in the past your doctor may prescribe some preventative steps you can take to make sure you can carry this baby full term.

Once you become pregnant, your doctor will monitor your HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) levels. HCG is the pregnancy hormone secreted by the placenta once it has begun to form and the embryo has implanted itself in the uterine wall and is detected in the urine when a pregnancy test is done.

In the case of a chemical pregnancy, the embryo implants itself in the uterine wall but doesn’t develop as it’s supposed to resulting in what is called ‘a blighted ovum’.

If the HCG levels rise, this could signal the onset of another miscarriage very soon after implantation. If you have a history of miscarriages and want to try and get pregnant, your doctor may prescribe baby aspirin and an increase of the hormone progesterone. He may even suggest that surgery is necessary to remove any fibroid tumors that could be impeding a full term pregnancy.

He’ll most likely suggest that you wait at least one full menstrual cycle before trying to conceive again.

For couples who experience a chemical pregnancy while actively trying to get pregnant, the emotional roller coaster can be devastating, especially if they’re suffering repeated miscarriages. You get the excitement of the faint positive test though nothing can be detected on the ultrasound yet and your blood test’s HCG levels are low and if they don’t increase over time, this is then followed by the disappointment of bleeding similar to that of a heavy period signalling a miscarriage.

You and your partner need to be able to talk to each other and acknowledge the disappointment and devastation of your loss. If you don’t share your feelings, resentment may build between you and your partner as each of your may begin to blame the other for the loss of your baby.

Well meaning relatives and friends may try to ease your pain by reminding you that because the baby wasn’t fully developed yet, you shouldn’t feel bad. However it will only do you more harm than good if you try and ‘get over it’ without acknowledging the sadness you have every right to feel.

Your doctor can refer you and your partner to someone you can talk to together about the feelings of loss you’ll be feeling.

If you suspect that you were pregnant and have experienced a miscarriage make sure to inform your doctor as soon as possible so that he can make sure to remove all signs of embryonic tissue. This will eliminate the risk of infection which may make it harder to get pregnant in the future and may lead to a pattern of more chemical pregnancies.

It may be advisable for you to hold off on taking the home pregnancy tests as you try to get pregnant and give yourself a missed period or two before letting your doctor do the pregnancy test himself.

In this day and age where pregnancy tests can detect conception with seemingly lightening quick speed, it might look like a dream come true to be able to celebrate the joyous occasion as soon as you can. However, if you’ve had chemical pregnancies in the past, a false positive can only bring more devastating when the dream is taken away.