What’s a Chemical Pregnancy?

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on June 26, 2017Written by Valencia Higuera
chemical pregnancy

A chemical pregnancy is an early pregnancy loss that occurs shortly after implantation. Chemical pregnancies may account for 50 to 75 percent of all miscarriages.

Chemical pregnancies take place before ultrasounds can detect a fetus, but not too early for a pregnancy test to detect levels of hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. This is a pregnancy hormone the embryo creates after implantation. Your doctor can confirm a chemical pregnancy by testing your blood for it.

Experiencing a miscarriage just one or two weeks after a positive pregnancy test can be devastating.

Symptoms of a chemical pregnancy

A chemical pregnancy can have no symptoms. Some women have an early miscarriage without realizing they were pregnant.

For women who do have symptoms, these may include menstrual-like stomach cramping and vaginal bleeding within days of getting a positive pregnancy result.

It’s important to note that bleeding after a positive pregnancy test doesn’t always mean a chemical pregnancy. Bleeding is also common during implantation, which is when the embryo attaches to the uterus. This process can rupture or damage tiny blood vessels along the uterine lining, resulting in the release of blood. Spotting often appears as a pinkish or brownish discharge. This is normal 10 to 14 days after conception.

A chemical pregnancy doesn’t usually last long enough to cause pregnancy-related symptoms like nausea and fatigue.

This type of miscarriage differs from other miscarriages. Miscarriages can occur at any time during a pregnancy. But they are more common before the 20th week. A chemical pregnancy, on the other hand, always occurs shortly after implantation. Since most often the only symptom is menstrual-like cramping and bleeding, some women assume they’re having their menstrual cycle.

In vitro fertilization

A chemical pregnancy can also happen after in vitro fertilization (IVF). An egg is removed from your ovaries and mixed with sperm. The embryo is transferred to the uterus after fertilization.

IVF is an option if you can’t conceive because of:

A blood test is usually given within 9 to 14 days after IVF to check for a pregnancy, depending on the clinic you use.

Blood test results will be positive if implantation took place. But sadly, abnormalities with the embryo may cause a chemical pregnancy shortly thereafter.

A miscarriage after IVF can be heartbreaking, but it’s also a sign that you can get pregnant. Other attempts at IVF may be successful.

Causes of a chemical pregnancy

The exact cause of a chemical pregnancy is unknown. But in most cases the miscarriage is due to problems with the embryo, possibly caused by a low quality of sperm or egg.

Other causes may include:

  • abnormal hormone levels
  • uterine abnormalities
  • implantation outside the uterus
  • infections like chlamydia or syphilis

Being over the age of 35 increases the risk of a chemical pregnancy, as does certain medical problems. These include blood clotting and thyroid disorders.

Unfortunately, there are no known ways to prevent a chemical pregnancy.

Treatment for a chemical pregnancy

A chemical pregnancy doesn’t always mean you’re unable to conceive and have a healthy delivery. While there’s no specific treatment for this type of miscarriage, there are options to help you conceive.

If you’ve had more than one chemical pregnancy, your doctor can run tests to diagnose possible underlying causes. If your doctor can treat the cause, this can reduce the risk of another chemical pregnancy.

For example, if an early miscarriage was caused by an undiagnosed infection, taking antibiotics to clear the infection can improve your chances of conceiving and having a healthy delivery in the future. If the miscarriage was due to problems with your uterus, you may need a surgical procedure to correct the issue and have a healthy pregnancy.

You should also know that a chemical pregnancy isn’t the only condition that causes the body to produce the pregnancy hormone. Higher levels of hCG can also occur with an ectopic pregnancy. This is when an egg implants outside the uterus. Since an ectopic pregnancy can mimic a chemical pregnancy, your doctor may run tests to rule out this condition.

The takeaway

A chemical pregnancy doesn’t mean your body is unable to have a healthy pregnancy. If you learn the reasons for an early pregnancy miscarriage, you may be able to receive proper treatment. This can correct the underlying cause.

Speak with your doctor and discuss your options. Your doctor can also provide information on support groups or counseling services. These can be critical if you need emotional support after a miscarriage.

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