What Is a Chemical Pregnancy and Is It a Miscarriage?

Updated on May 16, 2018
Expert ReviewedDr. Mark Trolice, Director of Fertility Care
Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

Kierstin is a mom to two little girls and loves writing about parenting and pregnancy.

What Is a Chemical Pregnancy?

Imagine this: You get a positive pregnancy test only to start your period a few days later. Chemical pregnancies are both common and extremely heartbreaking, yet very little is understood about them. The sperm and the egg have met, but while conception has taken place, development beyond chemical changes in the woman's body doesn't happen. That's because in very early pregnancy, the cells of the fertilized egg are still developing, but the fetal sac and fetus have not begun to develop yet.

Is a Chemical Pregnancy a Real Miscarriage?

A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage that happens before anything can be seen on an ultrasound scan. According to the American Pregnancy Association, chemical pregnancies may account for 50-75% of all miscarriages.

The pregnancy chemicals, hormones, and cells have started to multiply, but the other physical attributes of a pregnancy have not. This early form of miscarriage is called a chemical pregnancy because the pregnancy is only evident in a blood or urine test and not through an ultrasound or physical examination by a doctor.

The only difference between a chemical pregnancy and a miscarriage is the duration of the pregnancy. Both are the loss of a pregnancy, but they take place at different stages in the development process of the baby. While the physical recovery process is different in a later-term miscarriage than in an early-term one, both bring grief and disappointment.

"A biochemical pregnancy is as devastating as a clinical pregnancy so the woman needs appropriate support from her partner and loved ones. Fortunately, the prognosis is good for an ultimate successful pregnancy and baby," says Mark Trolice, M.D., reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at Fertility CARE - The IVF Center and Associate Professor of Ob/Gyn at the UCF College of Medicine."

When Is an Early Miscarriage Considered a Chemical Pregnancy?

The term is used when a woman miscarries after conception but before the fetus has developed. Typically, it happens around weeks four or five. Basically, it occurs around the time when a woman’s body is producing just enough hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin, the pregnancy hormone) to receive a positive result on a home pregnancy test.

Is It a Period or a Miscarriage?

This kind of pregnancy often goes unnoticed because it can look and act like a late period. When women are trying to get pregnant they'll chart symptoms, keep track of their ovulation, and take an early pregnancy test about a week before their period is due—these women will know almost immediately if they have an early miscarriage because they're acutely aware of the changes in their body. Because of the increase of early-detection pregnancy tests, more chemical pregnancies are being detected, leading to more recognition of the early loss. However, a woman who is not trying to conceive may chalk her late period up to stress and not even realize that she's having a miscarriage.

If you have anxiety, it might be best to wait to take a pregnancy test. Remember, that a chemical pregnancy cannot be avoided, so it might be best to wait until your period is actually late to take a test.

Medical Disclaimer

If you’re aware that you’ve had an early miscarriage, you should absolutely inform your doctor so that the two of you can keep track of any future changes or complications.

What Are the Signs of a Chemical Pregnancy?

Some women won't experience any symptoms while others will experience bleeding that resembles a period or cramps and light bleeding that is proceeded by a period. Chemical pregnancies can be painful, just like some periods are painful, but the severity of pain really varies from woman to woman. Most commonly though, they are much like a regular period, but with stronger cramps and a heavier flow.

How Can I Tell the Difference Between Implantation Bleeding and a Chemical Pregnancy?

While it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, it ultimately comes down to timing. Implantation bleeding usually occurs the third week of your menstrual cycle or one week following ovulation while a chemical pregnancy bleed happens two to three weeks after ovulation

Another way to tell is to look at the amount of bleeding. Implantation bleeding usually results in extremely light bleeding or discharge that only lasts 24-48 hours while a chemical pregnancy will cause a heavier bleed.

What Is the Difference Between a False Positive and a Chemical Pregnancy?

If you take a home pregnancy test and notice two lines, this can indicate that you're pregnant, but it also may be a faint positive line. If you had a chemical pregnancy, it doesn't mean that the test was a false positive. It just means that your body may still have residual hCG in its system, even though you're no longer carrying an embryo. Also, if you take a home pregnancy test while bleeding and see a faint positive line, this can also indicate a very early miscarriage.

Although they're not generally considered much more painful than a normal period, some early miscarriages can be very uncomfortable. Each situation is different.
Although they're not generally considered much more painful than a normal period, some early miscarriages can be very uncomfortable. Each situation is different. | Source

Can I Get Pregnant After Having a Chemical Pregnancy?

Since some go undetected, they are not typically considered dangerous. The good news is that is absolutely possible to get pregnant again. Trolice says, "Actually, a biochemical pregnancy is somewhat encouraging since it shows the woman’s partner’s sperm can fertilize her egg and her uterus can allow for embryo implantation."

In fact, a National Institutes of Health study found that couples who try to conceive within three months after an early pregnancy loss have the same, if not greater, chance of having a successful pregnancy than those who wait for three months or more. However, it's important to mention that attempts at another conception should only occur once you have fully grieved and resolved your pregnancy loss. Everyone is on their own timeline, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Also, if you’re aware that you’ve had an early miscarriage, you should absolutely inform your doctor so that the two of you can keep track of any future changes or complications.

Why Do Chemical Pregnancies Happen?

No one really understands why chemical pregnancies happen, what causes them, or how to definitively prevent them. However, contrary to popular belief, they are not the result of a failure to implant. Implantation must take place for hCG to begin developing and for a pregnancy test to come up positive.

In the case of a chemical pregnancy, it’s possible that while implantation started, it happened incorrectly or there were chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg that caused the woman’s body to reject it.

Remember that these early miscarriages happen much more frequently than anyone realizes. Women at an increased risk include those over the age of 35 and those who have certain medical problems, including blood clotting and thyroid disorders. If you experience multiple chemical pregnancies or miscarriages (defined by medical professionals as two or more), your doctor can run some tests to rule out any underlying causes. including uterine fibroids, endometrial polyps, or hormonal abnormalities. According to USC Fertility, only 2% of pregnant women experience two pregnancy losses in a row and only about 1% have three consecutive pregnancy losses.

Source

What Are Other Types of Pregnancy Loss?

A chemical pregnancy is just one type of pregnancy loss (though it is one of the most common). Here are other types of pregnancy loss to watch out for:

Blighted Ovum

  • The term “blighted ovum” has been used when the gestational sac visualized on ultrasound has no signs of an embryo and is “empty” plus the mean sac diameter measures >= 25mm.

Ectopic Pregnancy

  • Ectopic pregnancies are defined as a pregnancy in any location other than the upper uterine cavity. The most common location is the fallopian tube (>90%), usually the part closest to the ovary and where fertilization occurs
  • Symptoms include vaginal bleeding, sharp or stabbing pain, and is commonly diagnosed by a transvaginal ultrasound and based on the blood hCG level.

Missed Miscarriage

  • A missed miscarriage is also known as a silent miscarriage because you may not experience typical miscarriage symptoms and will only know you had a miscarriage until the next ultrasound when there is no heartbeat.

First-Trimester Clinical Miscarriage

  • This is intrauterine pregnancy confirmed via ultrasound.
  • Symptoms include mild to severe cramps; nausea or vomiting; pain in your back or abdomen, and passing tissue or clot-like material.

Molar Pregnancy

  • May go undetected until your ultrasound scan at weeks 11-13
  • Symptoms include vaginal bleeding, increased hCG levels, nausea/vomiting, and early preeclampsia.

Second-Trimester Miscarriage

  • Symptoms include bleeding, cramping, and loss of fetal movement (most women will feel the baby moving by week 20).

Source

How to Find Support After a Pregnancy Loss

Whether the pregnancy was planned or not, going through a miscarriage at any stage can be totally devastating. A pregnancy loss is a loss no matter what. It's common to feel everything from sadness to anxiety to guilt. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you have experienced an early miscarriage:

  • It's necessary to grieve. This may seem like an obvious point but in the case of a chemical pregnancy, some women feel an obligation to move past the experience quickly. It's important to accept that what you've experienced isn't some weird phenomenon that's not serious. It is serious. It's the loss of a pregnancy and that has emotional ramifications.
  • You don't have to talk about it with everyone. Chances are that this early on, you've only told a handful of people anyway. How and when you decide to approach the subject of your loss is up to you. However, it's also more than okay if you decide you want to speak with a therapist or close friends about your loss. Don't ever feel like you aren't worthy of help and support.
  • Don't let the fear of a future miscarriage paralyze you. Again, half (half!) of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage. That's a sad, hard fact of life that you can't let hold you down in fear. It might be comforting to know that having a chemical pregnancy doesn't necessarily mean you'll have another one. And you're certainly not alone. Reach out and find other women who've had your experience. Online forums are a great way to interact with other women going through the same thing you are.

For those trying to conceive again, there are endless resources available online. Because early miscarriages wreak less havoc on a woman's body than a later miscarriage, not all doctors will discourage a woman from trying to conceive right away as they would with a later miscarriage. Regardless, you should talk to your doctor about what's best for you and your body because everyone is different. If you feel comfortable, be candid with your doctor about the emotions you are feeling. They can help you work through any fears and discuss with you what you can expect in your next pregnancy to help quell your anxieties.

It might also be helpful to find an online support group for women trying to conceive. In the group, you can share stories and tips and feel comfortable with other women who know what you're going through.

Expert Review

Dr. Mark Trolice

Director of Fertility Care
The IVF Center
Winter Park, FL
  • The article has been modified since this review was written.

Questions & Answers

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      • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Kierstin Gunsberg 

        17 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

        Fortu, I hope so too! These things are never as simple as magazines and Instagram would have it seem. (((hugs)))

      • profile image

        Fortu 

        17 months ago

        Thank you for this. I have been trying for a baby for a while now and actively track my cycle and have had a series of these chemical pregnancies. However, I am still hopeful that all will be well eventually. I recently had a BFP on Monday last week, 3 days after my period was due. I am now on 5 weeks 6 days and am hopeful that maybe this time its not another chemical pregnancy.

      • profile image

        Anon 

        17 months ago

        Thank you so much for this article. I have just suffered a 'chemical pregnancy' I found the term very misleading and unsupportive. I had waited until my period was due to do a pregnancy test and got faint but definite lines on 6 different tests over 5 days including on of the digital ones. By the time I started bleeding I was 15 days later than I had expected my period to start. It was much heavier than a normal period with cramping. Whilst I totally recognise a later miscarriage would likely be more distressing and potentially have medically and physical complications I feel describing my experience as an early miscarriage feels much more in line with how I am feeling. Thank you

      • profile image

        Kayla 

        18 months ago

        I'm so glad I found this article! I had a chemical pregnancy just before Christmas last year (3 months ago). The ob that told me (not my regular one) said it was nothing and just a false positive test I did at home. I had 4 bright positive tests I did at home before going in. It has bothered me so badly ever since not truly knowing until I read this tonight.

      • profile image

        Cassie 

        21 months ago

        Great article! Thanks so much.

        I personally resonated with what you said. When you have a positive pregnancy test, there are hopes & a bit of a reality check of what's to come and then after the miscarriage there is a real sadness because of the tiny little being you lost and what could have been.

      • profile image

        Olya123 

        2 years ago

        The most important thing is that chemical pregnancy is not a sentence, many women after it got pregnant and gave birth to children. http://motherhow.com/why-chemical-pregnancy-will-m...

      • profile image

        KB 

        2 years ago

        Hi,

        I recentley had a chemical misscarriage. I initially went to see my OB because I had pain in my lower abdomen, heaviness and pain every time i had to use the bathroom. OB made me take a pregnancy test and said I was pregnant, she then did an ultrasound and saw a lot of blood in my uterus, she was afraid I was eptopic, but after a 2nd ultrasound said it was a ruptured cyst. I took another blood test 2 days later and my HCG doubled. OB told me to take another blood test in a week and my HCG dropped down from 750 to 34. I'm bleeding like a light period now but no pain. It has been such a horrible experience. I'm glad I found this article. Have you heard of anyone with a ruptured cyst and pregnancy?

      • profile image

        Heison 

        2 years ago

        In February 2013, I was almost two weeks late for my period, so I took an hpt. I got a very light positive so I went to the doctor the next day to confirm. The test was negative. I never even saw my doc, the nurse just told me to come back in a week if still no period. Two days later, my period came. It was harder than normal but I got through it.

        I wasn't trying to get pregnant. In fact, I had been having a lot of female health issues and actually had a hysterectomy before the year was out. Since, it didn't cause problems, and I wasn't ttc, I didn't mention it to my doctor.

        However, I have never been able to get it off my mind. Had I been pregnant? Was the positive just a fluke? I knew the only way to find out for sure was to talk to my doc. I saw her this week for my yearly exam. I explained what happened, and she confirmed that I had a chemical pregnancy. She said a positive, even a faint one is still a positive. (I wasn't taking any meds, like fertility drugs, that could cause a false one) she was very compassionate while explaining it all to me, and I felt better knowing.

        Now, crazy enough, I'm sad. I keep wondering what the baby was, and wishing I had known when it first happened. Do you think it's normal to grieve for something that happened almost three years ago? Cause that's how I feel, like I'm grieving. And I feel ridiculous, but can't seem to help it.

        Reading your article made me feel better to understand what happened, and I thank you for writing it. I know it would probably help to talk to someone about this, but who? I don't feel right talking to someone who experienced this recently. I should think they would be on an entirely different level. The only thing I can think to compare myself to, would be someone hearing a loved one passed away a while back, and you're just being told. It's like the grief is fresh for me, even though the symptoms are now gone. Does that even make sense? Sorry if I'm rambling, but it's late and my mind is churning.

        Once, again thank you for writing this. It really has helped me.

      • profile image

        Miranda 

        2 years ago

        Hi, im 18 i think i had an early miscarriage but im not sure. My period was a week late so I bought a pregnancy test and i was going to take it the next morning but that night i started bleeding really heavy and passing blood clots, it wasnt like my normal period and plus im never late. I was having really bad abdominal pain on and off throughout the night and next day. I was still bleeding so i decided to take the pregnancy test. It was negative. The heavy bleeding and pain continued. My cousin (bestfriend) just had a miscarriage three weeks before so i confided in her about it. She believes i had an early miscarriage but im not sure i did since i never had a positive test. My cousin says it wouldnt have been positive since i didnt take the test until after i was bleeding and hurting so my hcg levels would have already dropped. Does this sound like i may have had an early miscarriage without having s positive test?

      • profile image

        Katie 

        3 years ago

        I tried for 5 years and finally got my bfp. Six of them over three days. At 4 weeks and 3 days I lost the pregnancy. While it has been heartbreaking, we're trying to look at the positive side of things. Five years and I finally got a bfp. My body partially did something right. Hoping this next time doesn't take another five years and our little poppy seed decides to stick around.

      • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Kierstin Gunsberg 

        3 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

        Hi, Hiba! I'm sorry to hear about your fertility difficulties. I'm not a doctor so I can't accurately answer your questions but I can tell you that it would be wise for you and your husband to visit a doctor together to get down to the bottom of things.

      • profile image

        Hiba 

        3 years ago

        I conceived after 2 years of trying with my 2nd child....we were so excited but after a week I start bleeding went to the Dr and she told me that it was a chamical pregnency ..... Very much disappointed. Is that mean there us nothing wrong with me n my hubby...and how many chances do we have to concieve again

      • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Kierstin Gunsberg 

        3 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

        dessiree, as a momma I can tell you that from the moment you conceive it is absolutely a "real" pregnancy and the feelings of loss you are feeling are equally real. Surround yourself with love and things that make you happy until you feel ready to start trying again!

      • profile image

        dessiree 

        3 years ago

        So I have been ttc since June and last week got a positive test we were so excited. Then a few days later all my symptoms stopped. my period began very weird period I experienced very bad cramping and back pain. With my regular monthly cycle I don't experience any symptoms at all other than wanting a soda. I got in contact with my doctor and she told me my hcg levels were declining and just to take it easy. I never really thought I could be so emotional over this but I have been feeling a lot of disappointment. My spouse has been so supportive but I know he's feel down also. I am just grateful to have found this page and see someone else say indeed it was a real pregnancy... that's what I have truly been looking for. Thank you so much

      • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Kierstin Gunsberg 

        3 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

        Hi Sharetth, I'm so sorry for your loss. Losing a pregnancy is extremely difficult and I'd encourage you to reach out to your friends and family for emotional support during this time.

        As for your concerns about fibroids, I would ask your doctor what he or she thinks about how they may be affecting your fertility and health.

      • Sharetth Hyde profile image

        Sharetth Hyde 

        3 years ago from Belize City, Belize

        hi..i was 12 weeks 2 day an..i had a miscarriage..i want to have my baby but..i lost him or her, this hurt so bad..i can't eat..i cry my self to sleep.,this just happen 12/2/2014 so sad please help me with some words of comfort..i have fibroids..i want to know how can..i remove them cause..i feel like that is killing my baby an..i was under too much stress please help me by letting me know how to get these fibroids out of me?

      • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Kierstin Gunsberg 

        3 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

        Christina, Paula, Susie, and shygirl, I'm so sorry to read about your losses and the difficulty process of mourning that not everyone understands. Chemical pregnancies are so misunderstood and I'm glad that what I've written has brought you all comfort.

        To answer your question, Susie, sometimes it takes the body a bit of time to register that you are no longer pregnant. Once it does, you should start bleeding. If you don't, your doctor may prescribe pills to help your body along or schedule a D&C procedure.

        Christina, I'm sorry that your mom didn't understand what you were going through. I think that sometimes for moms it's like, "I know you, you're strong, you'll get through this," but in situations like this you kind of need a minute to just feel totally devastated.

        Paula, I'm so sorry to hear. Not anticipating being pregnant and then finding out that not only were you but you lost it has to be so confusing, especially at a time in life where you're not really wanting to have children. I know you'll meet your baby someday .

        shygirl, thank you for reading and sharing your experience! I know I mention it a lot in my pieces but BabyCenter has a really great forum for sharing with other women who have had the same experiences, including miscarriage. You might find comfort there as well :)

        Just a reminder to those who have experienced weakness and fatigue during the bleeding that occurs during miscarriage-- talk with your doctor about taking an iron supplement just while the bleeding lasts and for a little while afterward to help build up your red blood cell production. Many women suffer anemia temporarily while going through a miscarriage.

      • profile image

        shygirl 

        3 years ago

        I had a period on Sept.21 and my cycles are 33-35 days. So on Oct.27 I took a HPT because I had not started my period. It came positive..and so did another one. 3 days later on 10/30 I began having minor low back pain, a heavy feeling, and bleeding. It was like my period was starting, and I bled for 7days. I took a pregnancy test tonight 11/7 and it is negative. I am glad I found your article. It is very comforting to read this and other woman's experiences. It also feels good to.share my experience. Thank you for listening and peace and love to.the other woman who have gone through this emotional experience. .

      • profile image

        shygirl 

        3 years ago

        Unfortunately mercury was in retrograde on Oct. 4-26

      • profile image

        Susie 

        3 years ago

        Hello all. I am new here. I just had a Frozen embryo transfer on the 17th of october. 13 days later, the blood test showed a good positive. Then I tranvelled back to my home country. 3 days later, a second blood test showed a number lower than the first (78.4). 2 days later, the 3rd blood test show (6). My Dr. did a scan test, which showed nothing. She confirmed there was no pregnancy. BUT am not bleeding yet..although. I still have this crampying feeling. has anyone has similar experience?

        Thank you for your response

      • Pregnancy Now profile image

        Becki Rizzuti 

        4 years ago from Central Indiana

        Thank you for writing this so that I wouldn't have to! I'm linking to it from the hub I'm writing about why you cannot have a period and still be pregnant.

        Thank you again!

      • profile image

        Paula 

        4 years ago

        What a helpful article! I suffered a chemical pregnancy a year and a half ago. I was 48 and not trying or expecting to become pregnant and went to the doctor because my period was lasting well beyond the usual 6 days. We all thought it was just a pre-menopausal change, but they gave me a pregnancy test just in case. The doctor walked in to show me a very faint positive on the test-- I was miscarrying! Wow. The doctor explained that this was a chemical pregnancy and never developed into anything. I confirmed with her that yes, there had been conception. That was enough for me. I felt immediate shock and sadness. I did not want more children, but a child had been conceived, and was lost. I bled for a few more weeks, passing clotty tissue and was very fatigued. Now I think about the baby that could have been. I am sure I will meet him/her one day. This is definitely not just a "chemical" issue -- it is a true loss and should be approached that way.

      • profile image

        Christina 

        4 years ago

        I also really needed to read this. I should be getting my bloodwork back today to confirm that my pregnancy is over at 4 weeks 2 days. I was angry for a bit and then sad. My mom didn't understand at all so I'm so happy someone out there does. It's a loss no matter how early and it doesn't make it "easier" to go through just because it happened early.

        I'm hoping the especially fertile after a chemical pregnancy is a thing for us!

      • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Kierstin Gunsberg 

        4 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

        Oh, Charlotte!! I'm so sorry to hear about what you're going through, but also glad to know that this information has helped you. Knowing that my research and writing is helping others is encouraging.

        Just remember, you are especially fertile after a chemical pregnancy! ((hugs))

      • profile image

        Charlotte 

        4 years ago

        I really needed to read this tonight. I had an early miscarriage or chemical pregnancy today at 4w4d. I had three positive tests at 11-14 dpo and negative until today.

        It has been hard finding information online about what to expect, but this article helped. :)

        Feeling like sh*t and not quite knowing what's happening is unpleasant and a little scary. Now I can go to bed and rest knowing what to expect. :)

      • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Kierstin Gunsberg 

        4 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

        Daisy, I'm sorry I just now saw your comment! Although it's a possibility that you had an early miscarriage, I would say it's more likely that you had an abnormal cycle because your hormones were out of whack thanks to the birth control. I'm not exactly an expert, but with a true chemical pregnancy, you probably would have first had a positive pregnancy test, followed by a negative pregnancy test. The fact that you continually had negative pregnancy tests leads me to believe that there were never pregnancy hormones present in your body (thus, you were never pregnant).

      • profile image

        DaisyMiller 

        4 years ago

        I'm 18 and I think I've had an early miscarriage. In October I came off hormonal contraception and felt like I needed a break from hormones to get back to feeling like me again. Anyway, I had a pregnancy scare and missed my period by three weeks. I took four home pregnancy tests which were all negative. When I did get my period I felt like I was dying. My periods are usually light and I don't get cramps at all, but this time was different. I couldn't stop bleeding, I had agonising abdominal cramps and I passed a lot of blood clots. The bleeding lasted just over a week. My Mum, who suffered a miscarriage before becoming pregnant with me, thought that I might have had an early miscarriage. I didn't think much of it at the time but my boyfriend and I were talking about when we would potentially like to have a child and it has been playing on my mind recently. Does this sound like I may have had an early miscarriage without even knowing I was pregnant?

      • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Kierstin Gunsberg 

        5 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

        Heather, thank you for your comment. Though it t makes me feel good to know that this little article helped someone, I'm sorry for your loss. I think that chemical pregnancies are so sad and difficult and they're not given enough attention. I know from my own pregnancy the ups and downs, the hopes and fears that one experiences even in the moments leading up to taking a test. I hope you can find a good support group (the online ones are actually great!) to comfort you on your journey =)

      • profile image

        Heatherg713 

        5 years ago

        Thank you for posting this! As someone who recently experienced a chemical pregnancy and has had difficulty finding very much (useful) information or support, I really appreciate it. It absolutely is a loss and a disappointment to have a chemical pregnancy for anyone trying to conceive.

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