What signs and symptoms could mean a chemical pregnancy?
You may have heard the term chemical pregnancy or received news from your doctor that you’ve experienced one, but what does this mean and what causes it?
A chemical pregnancy is one that ends in the very early stages. So it could be described as a very, very early miscarriage. Conception takes place, the embryo implants and a pregnancy test is positive but a miscarriage occurs before anything can be seen in the uterus or on ultrasound. The only evidence of being pregnant is the chemical reaction that caused the test to turn positive.
A chemical pregnancy is confirmed by testing for hCG, the hormones in urine or blood test that indicate a pregnancy. However, within weeks, these hCG levels begin to drop rapidly, signifying an end to the pregnancy.
Many women won’t even realise that they have experienced a chemical pregnancy because most of these occur very early, within the initial five weeks. During this time, there may be no symptoms of a pregnancy and most women would not have taken a pregnancy test early as a period has not yet been missed.
Early pregnancy tests
In recent years, pregnancy tests have become more advanced and it is possible for women to detect pregnancy (hGC levels) up to 3 days before a period is due. It's thought that as a result, more women are detecting a chemical pregnancy. You may also hear the term 'clinical pregnancy' which can occur after 5 weeks. The term changes to recognise that a gestation sac is visible after 5 weeks.
What are the signs of a chemical pregnancy?
Signs of a chemical pregnancy are not very prominent due to how early it occurs. However, some women do notice the following:
• A positive pregnancy test
• Mild spotting a week before the period is due can be a sign and symptom of chemical pregnancy.
• Very mild abdominal cramping
• Low hCG hormone levels
• Vaginal bleeding even after testing positive can also be a sign and symptom of chemical pregnancy.
Is it normal to feel upset?
Just because they occur early on doesn’t mean chemical pregnancies are not upsetting for those who experience them. Even if a woman did not realise she was pregnant, she can still experience feelings of loss and may find that other people do not understand these feelings because the loss was at such an early stage.
What are the causes of a chemical pregnancy?
The causes of a chemical pregnancy are often difficult to determine and need more research, however, there are a few identified causes:
• Chromosomal abnormalities: The most common cause. These abnormalities are present at the time of conception and stop the baby from forming properly so the body miscarries.
• Uterine abnormalities: The presence of fibroids in the uterus, for example, may interfere with implantation.
• Hormonal deficiency: Women with luteal phase defects and other hormone deficiencies may not be able to sustain a pregnancy and miscarriage follows.
• Several risk factors, including advanced maternal age - ie being 35 or older - and undiagnosed medical problems like a clotting disorder can increase the risk of chemical pregnancy.
On a positive note, there is no indication that a future pregnancy will be affected by a chemical one.
Generally, a chemical pregnancy does not require treatment but if you suspect you have had one, consult with a doctor to monitor your hCG levels. Sometimes a D&C will need to be undertaken. If the reason for a chemical pregnancy is an infection, a course of antibiotics will treat the infection.