What Is a Chemical Pregnancy and Can You Treat It?
Dr. Angel Rivera
If you are trying to become pregnant, you may be excited about a positive pregnancy test result.
However, if you take another test a few days or weeks later and get a negative result, you may wonder what happened.
There can be multiple reasons for a positive result to turn negative — one of them being that you had what’s called a chemical pregnancy.
So, what is a chemical pregnancy, and can you treat it?
What Are the Different Types of Pregnancies?
While many people tend to think of pregnancy as simple and straightforward, there are technically three types of pregnancies: clinical, ectopic, and chemical.
A clinical pregnancy is the most well-known type of pregnancy. During a clinical pregnancy, an egg is fertilized and it implants into the uterine lining, where it begins to develop.
As the embryo develops, the body starts to produce a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).
This hormone is produced in increasingly higher levels throughout pregnancy, which is why it is called the pregnancy hormone.
Hormone levels of hCG increase the most throughout the first trimester (weeks 1-12) of pregnancy.
There is fairly low hCG at first, but by the time you miss your expected period, there should be enough hCG in the body to be detected by home pregnancy test.
A heartbeat is typically present around weeks six or seven, and the embryo is visible on an ultrasound screen as it grows.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an egg is fertilized by the sperm outside of the uterus, typically within the fallopian tubes.
This type of pregnancy is considered extremely dangerous because the embryo grows quickly and can become trapped in the tube, which can rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
Ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency and is not viable because the embryo cannot develop and grow within the fallopian tubes.
Ectopic pregnancies must be terminated to save the life of the mother.
A lesser known type of pregnancy is a chemical pregnancy, or biochemical pregnancy.
Chemical pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg has implanted in the uterine lining and starts to develop, but despite the embryo implanting and becoming fertilized, it stops developing at some point during the first five weeks of pregnancy, causing an early miscarriage.
This type of miscarriage often occurs so early that the pregnant woman is not even aware that she is pregnant or that a miscarriage has occurred.
This type of early pregnancy loss can happen for several different reasons, including chromosomal abnormalities or failure to implant in the uterus properly.
Chemical pregnancies are not caused by any action or failure on the part of the pregnant individual.
It is called a chemical pregnancy because the fertilized embryo causes the body to start producing hCG, which early pregnancy tests can detect even at low levels in order to determine a pregnancy.
If a woman takes a pregnancy test during the first five weeks of pregnancy or shortly thereafter, she may receive a positive test result due to the increased levels of hCG in the body, even if the embryo has already stopped developing.
After an initial positive pregnancy test, it’s crucial to have a blood test done through your OB-GYN or primary healthcare provider.to confirm the pregnancy and perform a wellness exam.
Are Chemical Pregnancies Dangerous?
Unlike ectopic pregnancies, which frequently threaten the health and wellness of the mother, there are no major risk factors associated with chemical pregnancies.
Because they end so quickly, many women do not even know they are pregnant before the miscarriage occurs.
Some women worry that experiencing a chemical pregnancy means that they have an infertility issue and may not be able have children in the future.
However, it is very possible to conceive again and have a healthy pregnancy even just a few weeks after a chemical pregnancy.
What Symptoms Are Associated With a Chemical Pregnancy?
There are several common symptoms of a chemical pregnancy:
- Your normal period is late by about a week, but then it arrives
- You receive a positive pregnancy test result, but then get your period
- You receive a positive pregnancy test result first, and a negative pregnancy test several days or weeks later
- You receive a positive pregnancy test result, but do not have any other symptoms of early pregnancy, such as tender breasts
- Your period is heavier or causes more intense cramping than usual
Can You Treat a Chemical Pregnancy?
There is no medical treatment for a chemical pregnancy, as the miscarriage occurs early on and the body generally “resets” on its own.
Experiencing chemical pregnancy is actually fairly common — about one in every four pregnancies end in a miscarriage before 20 weeks of pregnancy, with 80 percent of those occurring in the first week of pregnancy.
While no medical treatment is needed for a chemical pregnancy, some people may need help mentally and emotionally processing the pregnancy loss with their gynecology doctor or therapist.
People who are trying to become pregnant may grieve the loss of the pregnancy, especially if they are trying in-vitro fertilization or IVF.
There is no right or wrong way to feel about the loss of a pregnancy, but talking to someone can help if you’re struggling.
There are support groups for those who may wish to connect with other people going through the same struggles.
Experiencing a chemical pregnancy while trying to get pregnant is considered normal. However, women who experience several recurring chemical pregnancies may be referred to a fertility specialist for more testing.
There may be a reason why they are experiencing repeated early miscarriages, such as blood clotting disorders, thyroid disorders, or even polycystic ovary syndrome, known as PCOS.
How Soon Can You Get Pregnant Again After a Chemical Pregnancy?
The good news is that it is possible to experience a healthy pregnancy shortly after a chemical pregnancy.
Many people who are trying to get pregnant start trying again right away after experiencing a chemical pregnancy.
Ovulation resumes about two weeks after a chemical pregnancy resolves, allowing for potential pregnancy.
However, other people may decide to wait a bit to try again to process emotions regarding the lost pregnancy.
The Bottom Line
A chemical pregnancy is a pregnancy that ends in miscarriage in the five weeks before fetal development begins.
Women may receive a positive pregnancy test result due to increased levels of a chemical called hCG in the body; hCG levels begin falling after the miscarriage, resulting in a negative pregnancy test shortly thereafter.
No medical treatment is generally needed for a chemical pregnancy, but some people may choose to process the loss by talking to a mental health provider.
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