What is a chemical pregnancy?
Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.
Written on 9/13/21
Keep reading to learn more about chemical pregnancies and what can cause them.
If you have ever experienced a chemical pregnancy or an early pregnancy loss, our hearts go out to you. Proov founder, Amy, experienced many pregnancy losses and we know how devastating it can be.
But we also believe that knowledge is empowering and we want to provide you with as much information as possible on your journey. Keep reading to learn more about chemical pregnancies and what can cause them.
What is a chemical pregnancy?
A chemical pregnancy is a very early pregnancy loss, occuring before the 5th week of pregnancy. Very early pregnancy losses account for up to 75% of miscarriages, and sometimes women are not even aware they were pregnant in the first place.
Chemical pregnancies typically occur before an ultrasound is able to detect an embryo. Instead, they can be identified by the presence of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), whether that be via a home pregnancy test or a blood test.
In the case of a chemical pregnancy, a newly formed embryo will start implanting into the uterine lining, which causes the secretion of hCG. But then, the embryo either stops developing or implantation cannot be completed.
The hCG levels that started to increase to a level where they may be detected by a pregnancy test, will then drop abruptly. This causes bleeding which is often mistaken for a regular period. Unless you are in tune with your body or accurately track your cycle, the chances of simply overlooking a chemical pregnancy as a period are pretty high.
So why is it called a “chemical” pregnancy? This is because the only way it can be diagnosed is through biochemical means: by the detection of the hCG hormone in blood or urine. In the case of a “clinical” pregnancy, the embryo and a heartbeat are also detectable by clinical means, i.e. an ultrasound or scan.
You may have heard a fertility myth claiming that chemical pregnancies are “false” pregnancies, which is entirely untrue. There is nothing false about a chemical pregnancy; it is a real pregnancy that stops developing and results in a very early miscarriage.
What causes a chemical pregnancy?
Because chemical pregnancies occur early on in pregnancy, they usually go untested meaning it is often hard to find out what exactly causes them. Here are a few potential causes of a chemical pregnancy:
Chromosomal abnormalities: Chromosomal abnormalities are one of the main causes of very early pregnancy loss. A normal embryo has 46 chromosomes, 23 of which are contributed by the egg, and the other 23 by the sperm. If an embryo either has too many or too few chromosomes, it is considered genetically “abnormal” and it’s more likely that it may not be a viable pregnancy.
Uterine abnormalities: Uterine abnormalities — meaning a uterus is a different shape or size than normal — may sometimes impact implantation. Studies show that about 18% of women experiencing recurring miscarriage have a certain uterine malformation.
Blood clotting disorders: Blood clotting disorders may cause repeated miscarriage. Thrombophilia and antiphospholipid syndrome are just two of them, and there are tests available to detect them.
Incomplete implantation: Another common cause of early miscarriage is incomplete implantation, which is often caused by low progesterone levels during the luteal phase. Progesterone is required during the implantation window to ensure the uterine lining is “sticky” and receptive enough to receive an embryo. When progesterone levels are suboptimal, uterine lining receptivity may diminish which may result in incomplete implantation and early miscarriage.
Because chemical pregnancies occur early on in pregnancy, they usually go untested meaning it is often hard to find out what exactly causes them.
What are the symptoms of a chemical pregnancy?
A chemical pregnancy may not have any symptoms and can easily be missed unless, as we mentioned, the woman is tracking her cycles and is in tune with her body. The symptoms, when they are present, are usually mild and the most common are:
- More pronounced menstrual cramps
- A heavier than usual period
- Bleeding after a positive home pregnancy test
- Low hCG levels in blood (especially after seeing a higher level from a previous test)
- Absence of pregnancy symptoms after a positive home pregnancy test
- A positive pregnancy test that turns negative within a few days
Detected or not, a chemical pregnancy doesn’t usually need any medical intervention. This being said, you might bleed more than you usually do, for a bit longer, and you may even pass some blood clots. If you notice extremely heavy bleeding or serious pain, we recommend consulting your doctor to rule out an ectopic pregnancy.
What should I do after I experience a chemical pregnancy?
A pregnancy loss, even a very early one, is still a loss. For anyone who is actively trying to conceive, a chemical pregnancy is just as devastating as any miscarriage.
First of all, please be gentle to yourself. A chemical pregnancy is not your fault.
Are there things you might do to prevent a new chemical pregnancy from happening again? Sometimes there may be, depending on what caused the loss in the first place.
Chromosomal abnormalities, for example, cannot be prevented. Some of our eggs are genetically normal, some are not. As we get older, not only does our ovarian reserve decrease, but our abnormal eggs start to outnumber the healthy ones. This happens to every person with eggs and unfortunately, it’s a natural process we really can’t prevent.
The first thing you should do after you experience a chemical pregnancy is to make sure you are in control of all the things you can actually control. This starts with cycle tracking.
Understanding when you ovulate is of course critical to timing intercourse for conception, but understanding if you’re ovulating successfully is critical for understanding your chances at successful implantation.
Proov Confirm is the first and only FDA cleared PdG test to confirm successful ovulation at home.
To do this, you can use Proov Confirm — the first and only FDA cleared PdG test to confirm successful ovulation at home. PdG is a urine marker of progesterone, which we know needs to remain adequately elevated for long enough to allow for the best possible chance at implantation.
In fact, observing elevated PdG levels during the luteal phase is so critical that a recent study found they increase the chances of successful pregnancy from just 19% all the way to 92%! Ensuring your levels are good to go can help you get pregnant faster.
If you test with Proov Confirm and find you may have lower than ideal PdG levels, the fix is often simple! We always recommend bringing your PdG results to your doctor to discuss the best next steps.
On the other hand, if your Proov Confirm results look good, then it might be a good idea to still follow up with your doctor. They can help you explore other issues that may be causing a chemical pregnancy, such as uterine abnormalities or blood clotting disorders.
We believe more knowledge is better. Now that you know more about chemical pregnancies, you’ll be better set up for success on your fertility journey.