When a woman is pregnant, her progesterone levels are approximately ten times higher than normal. Many women have recurrent chemical pregnancies as a result of improper levels of progesterone; however, once their levels of progesterone are corrected, these women are able to carry a pregnancy to full term. A cream is typically used for this purpose.
Most chemical pregnancies likely happen when there’s a problem in the embryo’s DNA that prevents it from developing. There’s a good chance that the next embryo and the ones that follow will develop without a problem
Chemical pregnancies (also known as biochemical pregnancies) are very common. What’s more, research has found that up to one in four pregnancies is lost even before a woman misses her period or has symptoms of pregnancy — these are chemical pregnancies. Research indicates chemical pregnancies occur most commonly right after ovulation, typically in the fifth week of pregnancy. The exact reason is still unknown; some researchers believe it may have to do with low levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) making other hormones like progesterone impossible to detect in early pregnancy.
Why Do I Keep Having Chemical Pregnancies
The vast majority of chemical pregnancies are probably the result of a problem in the DNA of the embryo that prevents it from developing normally. There is a good possibility that the subsequent embryos, beginning with the one that will be implanted next, will grow normally.
Chemical pregnancies are generally defined as those that occur after implantation has occurred and before week 5. Chemical pregnancies are actually very common, with up to one in four pregnancies being lost before a woman even realizes she’s pregnant. A chemical pregnancy is the loss of a pregnancy before the fifth week and may not be noticed. At least one in four pregnancies is lost this early.
The term “chemical pregnancy” refers to a positive result on a blood or urine test that gauges the presence of a hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), to detect a pregnancy. But many women who have a chemical pregnancy don’t even realize they’re pregnant because the loss is so early; they may not have taken a pregnancy test,
had any pregnancy symptoms, or even missed a period. They may simply have a late period that’s a bit heavier than usual.
How do you know if it’s a chemical pregnancy?
Signs and Symptoms of Chemical Pregnancy
Because a chemical pregnancy occurs so soon after conception, some women may not be aware that they’re pregnant. Those who do know that they’re pregnant or suspect they’ve had a chemical pregnancy may experience the following symptoms:
- A late period
- Heavy period-like bleeding, perhaps with clots
- Menstrual-like cramps
Signs of Chemical Pregnancy at 4 Weeks
Why did it happen?
It is thought that chemical pregnancies occur for similar reasons to many other miscarriages. The most common cause is likely to be chromosomal problems with the developing baby and these are usually random, ‘one-off’ problems.
Is it normal to feel upset?
Even the earliest of pregnancy losses can be very distressing.
Whether your pregnancy was planned or unplanned, the positive pregnancy test might well have sparked thoughts and plans about the future. Even if you only knew you were pregnant for a few days, you may still have feelings of loss and grief, perhaps especially if took a long time, and possibly fertility treatment, to conceive.
You might be upset by the term ‘chemical pregnancy’ itself and feel that it doesn’t at all match your feelings about the baby you began thinking of as soon as you knew you were pregnant.
Not everyone is upset, though. You might feel a little sad but just accept the loss as ‘one of those things’. You may feel relieved that if things had to go wrong, this happened earlier rather than later in the pregnancy. There are no right or wrong feelings.
Whatever your feelings, if you would find it helpful to talk things through, do get in touch. You can see the ways we help here.
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Causes and Risk Factors of Chemical Pregnancy
Most miscarriages, including chemical pregnancies, are caused by chromosomal abnormalities that prevent the fetus from developing normally.
In an assisted pregnancy that uses frozen embryos, damage that occurs to the embryo during the freezing process may result in a chemical pregnancy; as many as 25 percent of pregnancies resulting from in vitro fertilization (IVF) result in a chemical pregnancy.
Other causes can include:
- An insufficient (too thin) uterine lining
- A problem with DNA in the sperm
- Low hormone levels
- Pregnancy with an IUD in place
Meanwhile, certain conditions can put a woman at increased risk for a chemical pregnancy. These include being 35 or older, having an untreated clotting disorder or thyroid condition, or having another poorly controlled chronic medical condition such as diabetes.
How Is Chemical Pregnancy Diagnosed?
Sometimes a woman will take a home pregnancy test and get a positive result, but then she’ll have a late period or discover through a pregnancy test at the doctor’s office that there’s no pregnancy. Your doctor can confirm that you had a chemical pregnancy with a urine or blood test to check the level of hCG in your body.
In other instances, women may not even know they’ve been pregnant; they may think their period is simply late.
Prognosis of Chemical Pregnancy
In many cases, once your menstrual cycle normalizes after the early pregnancy loss, you can try to get pregnant again whenever you and your partner feel ready.
If you have a medical condition (such as diabetes or a thyroid disorder) that may have contributed to a chemical pregnancy, getting it properly treated may help improve your chances of conceiving a viable pregnancy in the future.
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Duration of Chemical Pregnancy
By definition a chemical pregnancy occurs before the fifth week of pregnancy; it’s a very early miscarriage, in other words. The bleeding and cramping may last for a few days.
Treatment and Medication Options for Chemical Pregnancy
Very early pregnancy losses generally don’t require treatment but if you think you have experienced one, be sure to tell your healthcare practitioner.
If a medical condition may have contributed to a chemical pregnancy, getting it properly treated can help you improve your chances of conceiving a viable pregnancy and having a healthy baby in the future.
Otherwise, once your menstrual cycle normalizes, you can try to get pregnant again whenever you feel ready.
Complications of Chemical Pregnancy
There aren’t usually any physical complications of chemical pregnancy, aside from cramping and sometimes heavier-than-usual bleeding. In rare instances, women may experience very heavy bleeding or hemorrhaging after a chemical pregnancy, which can lead to anemia; this requires medical attention.
RELATED: Early Pregnancy Loss May Trigger Post-Traumatic Stress SymptomsBut keep in mind that any kind of miscarriage can be upsetting, especially if you were trying to conceive or were excited about a positive pregnancy test or you went through fertility treatment. As a result, you may experience stress-related symptoms or mood changes. Some women find that early pregnancy loss can even trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms, such as intrusive or unwanted thoughts about the pregnancy loss, nightmares or flashbacks, hyperarousal, and avoidance of anything that reminds women of their loss.
Be sure to give your body and your mind ample time to recover from the loss.
Whatever your feelings are, accept them and allow yourself time to fully process them, perhaps with support from friends, family members, or support groups.
Symptoms, Causes, and Preventing Miscarriage
Early miscarriages are quite common. The chance of a miscarriage is between 8 and 20 percent before 20 weeks of pregnancy, and 80 percent of early miscarriages occur before 12 weeks.
Chemical pregnancies may account for 25–50 percent of all miscarriages in cases when a person had no signs and didn’t know they were pregnant. Biochemical pregnancy may occur in 20 percent of pregnancies from assisted reproductive technologies.
The main risk factors for chemical pregnancy are maternal age and previous miscarriages. At 20–30 years old, the possibilities of experiencing a miscarriage can range from 9 to 17 percent; this increases with age.
Chemical pregnancies often go unnoticed. Sometimes, they may present with the following symptoms:
- Bleeding with or without clots. In 20–30 percent of all pregnancies, there is some bleeding in early pregnancy, with about 50 percent of those not ending with a miscarriage.
- Uterine pain and cramping
Chemical pregnancies happen when an egg becomes fertilized but the implantation isn’t completed. A combination of random factors can lead to miscarriage, and sometimes it is difficult to find one cause.
Potential causes of chemical pregnancies include:
- Chromosomal abnormality. About half of cases occur when there is an abnormal number of chromosomes.
- Infections such as chlamydia or syphilis
- Uterine abnormalities
- Systemic ailment such as untreated thyroid disease or uncontrolled diabetes
- Abnormality in hormone levels (luteal phase defect)
- Low body mass index
- Smoking and alcohol increase the risk of miscarriage
Bleeding from a miscarriage (chemical pregnancy)
In general, bleeding associated with a chemical pregnancy may start as light spotting and then turn to excessive bleeding with visible clotting (dark red clots), similar to a heavy period. Cramping and heavier bleeding are other signs of a chemical miscarriage.
Bleeding from implantation bleeding
In contrast, implantation bleeding appears as a light-brown discharge with a lighter flow that will last only a few hours to a few days. Vaginal bleeding happens in a very small amount around 10–14 days after conception, around the time of the next expected period. The bleeding occurs when the fertilized egg implants itself in the uterine wall.
Chemical pregnancy is different from other miscarriages. One person early in the pregnancy may have a miscarriage and only experience bleeding and cramping for a few hours. Another person may have miscarriage bleeding for up to a few days, and it may look like menstrual bleeding. This is why chemical pregnancies often go unrecognized.
Since most miscarriages happen because of random abnormalities in chromosomes, there is nothing specific that can be done to prevent them. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a good way to maintain a healthy pregnancy, though. Monitoring health and preparing for a pregnancy before conceiving can help support a healthy pregnancy. Here are a few steps to practice good pre-pregnancy health:
- Regular exercise
- A healthy diet
- Stress management
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating iron-rich food and taking folic acid every day
- Avoiding smoking and alcohol
- Сontrolling and managing existing medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, thyroid issues, and blood diseases)
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Research and Statistics: How Many People Have a Chemical Pregnancy?
Chemical pregnancies are extremely common — as many as one-third of all pregnancies may be chemical pregnancies, and up to 22 percent of IVF pregnancies may be chemical pregnancies.
But in many cases, women don’t even know they were pregnant because the pregnancy loss occurs so early.
Related Conditions and Causes of Chemical Pregnancy
Certain medical conditions can put a woman at increased risk for a chemical pregnancy. These include having an untreated clotting disorder or thyroid condition, or having another poorly controlled chronic medical condition such as diabetes.
In an assisted pregnancy that uses frozen embryos, damage that occurs to the embryo during the freezing process may result in a chemical pregnancy;
as many as 25 percent of pregnancies resulting from in vitro fertilization (IVF) result in a chemical pregnancy.
What is a chemical pregnancy?
A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage. It is diagnosed when a pregnancy is confirmed by a blood test or a home pregnancy test, but it can’t be seen on an ultrasound scan – usually up until about 5 weeks of pregnancy.
How is a chemical pregnancy diagnosed?
Sometimes women have a positive blood test or pregnancy test, but start bleeding shortly afterwards. In this case, they may have more blood tests to find out what’s happening. Sometimes blood tests aren’t done because a pregnancy test may be negative after just a few days.
If bloods are taken and show that the pregnancy hormones are decreasing rather than increasing, a woman will be diagnosed as miscarrying a chemical pregnancy.
If you have any bleeding during your pregnancy, with or without pain, it’s very important to get it checked out.
What causes a chemical pregnancy?
We believe that chemical pregnancies happen because of chromosomal problems with the developing baby. Chromosomes are block of DNA, which contain instructions for your baby’s development.
Sometimes something can go wrong at the point when you get pregnant and the baby gets too many or not enough chromosomes. If this happens, the baby can’t develop properly.
What is the treatment for a chemical pregnancy loss?
As many women don’t even find out that they’re pregnant until after five weeks, the loss of a chemical pregnancy may be mistaken for a normal period, or a late period.
Even if you’ve had a positive pregnancy test, the bleed will be like a normal period, or may even be lighter than normal. You may also have stomach cramps.
These miscarriages happen at such an early stage that they generally resolve naturally and you will recover quickly. You may be able to try again for a baby straight away if you want to, but your doctor will usually recommend waiting until after your next period.
Find out more about trying again after a miscarriage.
It can be hard to recover from a miscarriage. No matter when in your pregnancy you miscarry, you may need support to help you come to terms with what’s happened. Tommy’s is here to help you. You can talk to a Tommy’s midwife for free, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. You can call them on 0800 0147 800 or email [email protected]
You can read more information about coping after a miscarriage and stories from other people who have also experienced an early miscarriage.