What is a Biochemical Pregnancy? (Symptoms & Causes)

You may have heard of a biochemical pregnancy loss, but are not sure exactly what it means. A biochemical pregnancy is a type of very early pregnancy loss that occurs early in pregnancy. It usually occurs in the early stage before the fifth week of pregnancy. A biochemical pregnancy is also sometimes referred to as a chemical pregnancy or a clinical pregnancy. It is usually diagnosed when a woman has a positive pregnancy test, but then does not have a uterine cavity with a gestational sac on an ultrasound. The ultrasound is usually performed within two to three weeks after the positive test. A loss is devastating news for couples who were hoping to conceive. It is a very common type of pregnancy loss. In fact, as many as 25% of all pregnancies may end as a biochemical pregnancy. This post will discuss what is a biochemical pregnancy, what are the symptoms, and what is the treatment and next steps after this type of loss.

You may also like reading The Difference Between Stillborn and Miscarriage (Definition & Causes).

What Is A Biochemical Pregnancy?

Biochemical pregnancies are a type of pregnancy detected through blood tests. It can also be detected by a positive pregnancy test result at home, rather than by ultrasound. This type of pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall, but then fails to develop further. A biochemical pregnancy is often called a false positive because it shows up as if you are pregnant on a blood test, but an ultrasound will show that there is no baby.

This type of loss is a very early miscarriage. You will not be far enough along to hear a fetal heartbeat or see the baby on an ultrasound. You may have a positive pregnancy test followed by a negative result or the start of your menstrual cycle a few days later. This positive test may be the only evidence you have that you had a pregnancy. In some cases you may not even have a missed period, since the loss can occur so early.

Since this is such an early pregnancy loss, some women may not even know they are pregnant if they have not taken a home pregnancy test. It may just appear that you are having a late period. For women who are actively trying to conceive, a biochemical pregnancy can be a very disappointing and heartbreaking loss. Know that you did not do anything to cause your loss and it is not your fault. You can still have feelings of loss and grieve this type of miscarriage.

A woman stands against a brick wall with her head in her hands.  She looks sad.

What Causes A Chemical Pregnancy?

There are a few different things that can cause a biochemical pregnancy. One is an abnormal embryo. This can happen for a variety of reasons and there is no one exact cause of a chemical pregnancy. The most common cause is chromosomal abnormalities or problems with the way that the embryo implants in the uterus. Another cause is ectopic pregnancies, which is when the embryo implants outside of the uterus, such as in the fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy is a very serious condition that can be life-threatening for the mother and requires immediate medical attention.

You may also like reading Ectopic Pregnancy vs Miscarriage: What You Need to Know.

The biochemical pregnancy rate can be higher in women:

-Who are of higher maternal age (over the age of 35)

-Have had a previous miscarriage

-Have certain health conditions

-Are using assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF cycles (in vitro fertilization)

-Other risk factors can include a history of smoking or drug use, exposure to environmental toxins, or having other underlying medical issues.

Implantation dysfunction is thought to be one of the most common causes of biochemical pregnancies. This is when the embryo does not implant properly in the lining of the uterus or stops growing after implantation. Hormonal problems can also play a role in this type of early pregnancy loss. For example, if there are issues with progesterone levels, it can prevent the embryo from properly attaching to the uterine wall or continuing to grow.

What Are The Signs Of A Chemical Pregnancy?

Unfortunately, there are often no symptoms of chemical pregnancy. The only way to know for sure is to have a blood test that measures the level of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This is the hormone that is produced by the body during pregnancy and is what helps to sustain the pregnancy. If the pregnancy hormone HCG levels are too low, it can be an indication that the pregnancy is not progressing as it should. You may have some vaginal bleeding and cramping or the other normal symptoms you get before starting your menstrual period.

You may or may not have any pregnancy symptoms since a chemical pregnancy occurs so early. Some women do report feeling symptoms of pregnancy, such as breast tenderness or morning sickness. If you have a positive result on your initial pregnancy test but then your period arrives on time or a few days late, this could be a sign that you had a chemical pregnancy.

A black and white photo of a woman holding a pregnancy test and looking down at it.

How Is A Biochemical Pregnancy Treated?

There is usually no treatment or medical intervention needed for a biochemical pregnancy, as there is nothing that can usually be done to save the pregnancy. If you have had a positive pregnancy test and then an ultrasound does not show a gestational sac, it is likely that you have had a biochemical pregnancy. Your doctor will likely order another blood test to confirm the diagnosis. In some instances, they may do several blood pregnancy tests to make sure the beta HCG level has gone down completely. You may also need a pelvic exam or ultrasound examination to confirm your body has cleared everything out after your loss. If you body is able to clear the pregnancy on it’s own, it is a good sign you will not need further intervention.

Can I Have A Biochemical Pregnancy After Infertility Treatment?

Yes, it is possible to have a biochemical pregnancy after infertility treatment. This type of early loss can be especially heartbreaking for couples who have struggled with fertility issues and have finally been successful in conceiving through an IVF embryo transfer or another fertility treatment. You can ask your doctor about testing the embryo quality for genetic abnormalities if you have experienced recurrent pregnancy loss in order to determine if there may be an issue with the embryo itself.

Will a Biochemical Pregnancy Affect Future Pregnancies?

The good news is a biochemical pregnancy is not usually a cause for concern if you are trying to conceive in the future. In most cases, it is simply a matter of unfortunate circumstances. Most women will go on to have healthy pregnancies with live births at the end. However, if you have had multiple early losses, it may be worth talking to your doctor about whether there is anything that can be done to improve your chances of a successful and healthy pregnancy in the future. A fertility specialist can run blood tests to check your hormone levels. They will also likely perform an ultrasound scan to help determine if there are any possible causes for multiple losses. If there are underlying causes found, they can help recommend what steps you can take to have a successful pregnancy.

A woman sits on a couch starting down at a pregnancy test she is holding.

What Should I Do If I Experience A Biochemical Pregnancy?

Going through any type of pregnancy loss is emotionally devastating and heartbreaking. Acknowledge that it is okay to grieve and feel sad about your loss. Seek out support from friends, family, or a counselor if you need someone to talk to. There are also many support groups you can join for families that have experienced pregnancy loss. Remember that you are not alone and you do not have to grieve alone. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to speak with your doctor.

You may also like reading How to Honor a Miscarriage: Remembering Your Baby.

A chemical pregnancy is an early loss, but is still a loss. It can be very upsetting and you are allowed to grieve your loss. If you have experienced a biochemical pregnancy, you are not alone. Take the time you need to grieve and heal before you try to get pregnant again. Follow the best practices recommended by your doctor in order to ensure you have the best chance of a normal pregnancy in the future. Many women go on to have healthy and successful pregnancies. If you are concerned about your chances of conceiving after a chemical pregnancy, talk to your doctor. They will be able to provide you with more information and support.

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