Seeing a positive pregnancy test like elicits feelings of shock, excitement, or nervousness—maybe all three. But for those who have experienced a chemical pregnancy, that joy can be short-lived, and equally as devastating.
Here’s what you should know about chemical pregnancy—what causes it, the risk factors involved, how they’re linked to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and how to cope if you do experience a chemical pregnancy.
What is a Chemical Pregnancy?
Putting it simply, a chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage. Chemical pregnancies are marked by an early positive pregnancy test. That’s because a chemical pregnancy can trigger rising levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), the pregnancy hormone. But while HCG levels are elevated, if an ultrasound is performed, there is no gestational sac or heartbeat is detected.
A chemical pregnancy occurs shortly after a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. They are usually the result of chromosomal abnormalities with the fetus, which causes the body to naturally end the pregnancy. Also called biochemical pregnancies, chemical pregnancies usually occur between 4 and 6 weeks gestation.
While many women experience a chemical pregnancy shortly after getting a positive pregnancy test, they can also occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. Obstetricians and gynecologists estimate that between 50-75% of all miscarriages are chemical pregnancies and that 25% of pregnancies are lost before a woman even knows she is pregnant, or has any symptoms of pregnancy.
What are the Signs of a Chemical Pregnancy?
Signs of a chemical pregnancy include:
- An early positive pregnancy test
- Spotting or bleeding shortly after the positive test
- Menstrual-like cramping
- Lower-than-expected HCG levels
While these are common symptoms, some women don’t exhibit any of the above designs and can experience a chemical pregnancy without even knowing it during the trying to conceive process.
What Causes a Chemical Pregnancy?
A chemical pregnancy—like most other early miscarriage– is most often the result of some kind of chromosomal abnormality. Or, in other words, it happened as a result of something is completely out of your control and unless you continue to have repeated miscarriages, you shouldn’t expect the issue to continue.
Other causes of chemical pregnancy can include abnormal hormone levels, uterine fibroids, or issues with the uterus. Since chemical pregnancies occur in the early weeks of pregnancy, you likely won’t need medical treatment afterward.
The Link Between Chemical Pregnancies and IVF
In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is “a complex series of procedures used to help with fertility or prevent genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child,” according to the Mayo Clinic. During the IVF process, eggs are retrieved from the ovaries, fertilized in a lab, then transferred into the uterus. That process is then followed by a blood test between 7 and 14 days after the embryo is implanted.
While it’s the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology, IVF has also been linked to chemical pregnancy.
While researchers don’t know exactly why that is, one theory is that the early blood test during the IVF process detects pregnancy earlier, at the implantation stage of pregnancy. If the body detects a chromosomal abnormality with the fetus, the body may naturally terminate the pregnancy shortly after the implantation stage—and after a positive blood test—resulting in a chemical pregnancy.
Alternately, a pregnancy test would show a positive a bit later, or about two weeks after implantation, resulting in lower chances of a chemical pregnancy being detected in the first place.
Should You See a Doctor about a Chemical Pregnancy?
The commonly-given advice to couples trying to conceive is that you should seek a doctor’s help if you have three or more recurrent miscarriages. However, everyone is different and if you have any concerns about trying to get pregnant—especially if you have any medical conditions or are over the age of 35—you should always seek advice from a medical professional for your own individual circumstances.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between an ectopic pregnancy and a chemical pregnancy?
There are several key differences between an ectopic pregnancy and a chemical pregnancy. First, a chemical pregnancy is a when an egg is fertilized, but is terminated shortly thereafter, usually due to a genetic abnormality with the fetus. Alternately, an ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus (most often, in the fallopian tube). The latter can be fatal to the mother.
Will I be able to get pregnant after experiencing a chemical pregnancy?
In a word, yes. Especially in the IVF world, experiencing a chemical pregnancy means that you are able to get pregnant, which can be a good sign for future conception. Most doctors say it’s OK to get pregnant as soon as two weeks after a chemical pregnancy, and that the likelihood of conceiving again after a chemical pregnancy is high.
Is it OK for me to grieve a chemical pregnancy?
Absolutely. Early pregnancy loss is hard, no matter how early it occurred. If you experience a chemical pregnancy, you may experience feelings of grief or sadness over the loss. That’s totally normal. Take the time to mourn your loss, whether by talking to a trained professional, seeking out other mothers who have experienced chemical pregnancy, or engaging in activities that bring you joy. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve any type of pregnancy loss, and you have to take time to acknowledge your own emotions.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…