A chemical pregnancy is the term given to a pregnancy that ends very early in the first trimester. Chemical pregnancies are confirmed by testing for hCG, the hormones that indicate the presence of a pregnancy. These hormones are typically detected by a urine or blood pregnancy test. However, within weeks, these hCG levels begin to drop rapidly, signifying an end to the pregnancy. As a result, your baby and his amniotic sac cannot be seen on an ultrasound and a miscarriage takes place.
It is believed that chemical pregnancies occur when the fetus dies immediately after conception. This happens before the embryo has a chance to implant in your uterus where it can grow and develop. Like a stillbirth or molar pregnancy, chemical pregnancies can be very upsetting for the couple involved.
How Common is a Chemical Pregnancy?
Unfortunately, chemical pregnancies are actually quite common. In fact, between 50% and 60% of all first-time pregnancies are thought to end in miscarriage. A large majority of these can be attributed to chemical pregnancies.
When it comes to chemical pregnancies, many women don’t even realize that they have experienced one. This is because the vast majority of these miscarriages occur within the initial six weeks of pregnancy. During this time, typical signs of pregnancy are not always present just yet and a missed period may not have happened yet, making it somewhat unlikely for most women to take a pregnancy test. As a result, many women don’t even know that they were pregnant in the first place.
However, because pregnancy tests are becoming increasingly sensitive, it is now possible for women to detect pregnancy up to 3 days before their period is due. As a result, more and more women are able to recognize their pregnancies ahead of time, making it more likely that women will detect a chemical pregnancy.
What Causes a Chemical Pregnancy?
The causes of a chemical pregnancy are often difficult to determine, however, there are a few common causes:
- Chromosome Abnormality: Chromosomal abnormality is by far the most common cause for chemical pregnancies. These abnormalities are present at the time of conception, and prevent the baby from forming properly. As a result, the body miscarries the baby.
- Uterine Abnormalities: Abnormalities in the uterus, such as the presence of uterine fibroids, can interfere with implantation, leading to a chemical pregnancy.
- Hormonal Deficiency: Women with luteal phase defects and other hormone deficiencies have difficulty maintaining a pregnancy due to a lack of hormones. As a result, the body experiences a miscarriage.
Symptoms of a Chemical Pregnancy
For some women, a chemical pregnancy causes no external signs of pregnancy. The only real sign of a chemical pregnancy is rising hCG levels. For this reason, many women don’t even recognize that they may be experiencing a chemical pregnancy or miscarriage.
Women who have experienced a pregnancy before, may recognise typical pregnancy symptoms including:
- breast tenderness
- morning sickness and nausea
These physical symptoms disappear by the sixth week of pregnancy and your period begins. Your period may include the following symptoms:
- small clots in the blood
- increased amounts of blood
- more severe cramping
Diagnosis of a Chemical Pregnancy
Chemical pregnancies are primarily diagnosed through pregnancy blood tests. Throughout pregnancy, your health care provider will monitor your hCG levels to ensure that your pregnancy is moving along smoothly. If your health care provider notices a sudden lowering in your hCG levels, this may signal a miscarriage.
In order to diagnose a chemical pregnancy, you will be given a few hCG tests. After completion of a number of hCG tests, you will likely be receive an ultrasound. This ultrasound will be able to pick up any signs of life in the uterus. With a chemical pregnancy, no implantation of an embryo will be seen and no heartbeat will be heard.
Treating Chemical Pregnancy
Because the vast majority of chemical pregnancies go unnoticed, there are relatively few people who undergo treatment for the condition. Instead, most of these women go on to experience healthy, full-term babies in the future.
If you know that you are experiencing a chemical pregnancy it is a good idea to visit with your local heath care provider. It is important that your health care provider keeps an eye on your hCG levels. If you your hCG levels do not continue to decline, it is possible that a miscarriage will not take place, leading to possible health complications. For this reason, frequent monitoring by your health care provider will be necessary for a few months after a chemical pregnancy.
Women who are found to have specific causes for their chemical pregnancies may receive certain treatments in order to increase the chances of pregnancy. Common treatments include:
- fibroid surgery
- baby aspirin
What About the Future?
The vast majority of women who experience a chemical pregnancy go on to have happy and healthy pregnancies in the future.. In fact, the chances of experiencing multiple chemical pregnancies are quite slim. However, if you have suffered from two or more chemical pregnancies, it could be a sign of an underlying reproductive problem, so be sure to consult with your health care provider or reproductive specialist.