Answers to Questions About Chemical Pregnancies

Learn the Facts About Very Early Miscarriages

What is a chemical pregnancy and how often do they occur? What causes them and can they be prevented? Check out these answers to common questions about very early miscarriages.

Chemical Pregnancy - Definition

"Chemical pregnancy" is a term often used for miscarriages that happen so early that you barely even have time to process that you are pregnant before the loss. Most of these occur less than 5 weeks after a missed menstrual period and around 1 week after a positive pregnancy test.

It's thought that close to 75 percent of miscarriages are actually chemical miscarriages, and most of the time, women are simply unaware that a chemical miscarriage has occurred. They think that their period was just a little late that month. In fact, this is one reason that some physicians recommend waiting until a period has been missed for a week or two before doing a pregnancy test; to avoid finding, and then grieving, a chemical pregnancy.

Even though they happen early, chemical pregnancies can be emotionally devastating for some women. Here are some good things to know if you or someone you love has recently had a chemical pregnancy.

1
What Is a Chemical Pregnancy?

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A chemical pregnancy is a term used to describe a very early miscarriage. It usually occurs before the fifth week of gestation ,or less than a week after your first missed period and positive pregnancy test.

It is a chemical pregnancy in that a test for HCG indicates that a pregnancy has occurred, but there are otherwise no signs or symptoms of a pregnancy.

2
What's the Difference Between a Chemical and Clinical Pregnancy?

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A chemical pregnancy is a miscarriage. A clinical pregnancy is a viable pregnancy confirmed by a doctor.

In a chemical pregnancy, the gestational sac is not yet large enough to be visible on an ultrasound before the miscarriage happens. The only way to verify the pregnancy has occurred is through blood tests. This is considered biochemical evidence of a pregnancy, and hence the name chemical pregnancy.

In contrast, a clinical pregnancy is often defined as a pregnancy that can be visualized on ultrasound. A miscarriage after a clinical pregnancy would show the absence of a gestational sac which had previously been seen in the uterus.

A chemical pregnancy (very early miscarriage) does not usually have any symptoms. In fact, instead of menstrual bleeding being heavier than normal as one might expect, it is often the same as a normal period, or even lighter than usual.

3
Was My Late Period Really a Chemical Pregnancy?

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Because a chemical pregnancy can look like a late period, many women don't even realize that they have had a miscarriage.

If you see a doctor soon enough after the bleeding, he or she may be able to verify with tests that it was a miscarriage and not menstrual bleeding.

Pregnancy tests looking at human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) will be positive, but HCG levels will not double every few days as they ordinarily do during early pregnancy.

4
Was I Ever Really Pregnant?

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Although it might look like a false positive pregnancy test result, a chemical pregnancy does mean that a conception occurred. The loss simply occurred very early.

You may be able to verify this by taking a home pregnancy test during or right after your bleeding. If the test indicates that you are pregnant (which it still might if you very recently miscarried), and then a repeat test a week later shows that you are not pregnant, you may safely assume that you had a chemical pregnancy.

5
What Causes Chemical Pregnancies? Was It My Fault?

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Chemical pregnancies aren't well understood, but most doctors believe they are caused by random chromosome problems in the sperm or egg. In other words, most very early miscarriages are caused by chromosome abnormalities in the baby, and certainly are not due to anything that the mother (or father) did. Another possible cause is poor implantation of the embryo in the uterus—again, something that the mother and father did not cause.

If you are concerned, you may want to consider some things you can do to reduce your risk for miscarriage but it's important to mention a caveat. In reviewing risk factors, try not to think of things you may have done to "cause" a chemical pregnancy. If you had a chemical pregnancy, it wasn't your fault. Rather, take a look at these risk factors to make sure you are taking good care of your body in preparation for your next pregnancy. Many of the risk factors of miscarriage are also things that can prevent you from feeling as good as possible.

6
Is It Normal to Feel This Sad About a Chemical Pregnancy?

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Even though you might have known about the pregnancy only for a day or two, it still hurts to miscarry, and you are not alone if you are grieving deeply.

There is no "normal" when it comes to pregnancy loss. Every person is different and that is okay. Some people are relieved, whereas others are devastated when a chemical pregnancy occurs. It's important to honor yourself and the feelings you have rather than try to determine if what you are feeling is normal. Feelings are not good or bad, they just are. What is important is to allow yourself to grieve if you are feeling sad.

In some ways, very early miscarriages are more difficult to cope with than later miscarriages. You haven't had as much time to grow attached, but at the same time, you've likely not shared your pregnancy with many other people, and so, do not have the support of someone who has widely shared their pregnancy before miscarriage. This can leave you feelings more alone. Here are some words that have helped others cope with miscarriage.

7
Will My Next Pregnancy Be OK?

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If you have had one miscarriage, the chances are high that your next pregnancy will be normal. If you have had more than one miscarriage, you can most likely still have a normal pregnancy, but it may be a good idea to talk to a doctor about some testing to rule out potentially treatable causes of recurrent miscarriages

That said, keep in mind that, statistically anyway, most women have had chemical pregnancies. You are not alone. And most of these women go on to have perfectly normal pregnancies in the future.

Sources:

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. ACOPG Releases New Recommendations on Early Pregnancy Loss. 04/21/2015. http://www.acog.org/About-ACOG/News-Room/News-Releases/2015/ACOG-Releases-New-Recommendations-on-Early-Pregnancy-Loss

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