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What is a chemical pregnancy?

A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage. In a chemical pregnancy the embryo doesn’t implant correctly, and miscarriage occurs at around 4 weeks gestation, explains Peter G. McGovern, MD, an ob-gyn at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai West, in New York City. If you were to take a pregnancy test within those first four weeks, it’s possible that the results would be positive (depending on the sensitivity of the test). However, since the loss occurs so early, many women get their period before they ever take a test and therefore never realize they were pregnant, he adds.

What are chemical pregnancy symptoms?

Signs of a chemical pregnancy include bleeding about a week before or after your period is due, depending on when the miscarriage occurs. If you haven’t taken a pregnancy test, you may just think your period is early or late. If you have taken a pregnancy test and you experience bleeding after positive results, contact your doctor. You may also experience PMS-like symptoms, including nausea and cramping, with a chemical pregnancy.

What causes a chemical pregnancy?

“Chemical pregnancies are often due to an embryo having the wrong number of chromosomes,” says Dr. McGovern. Additionally, there are certain risk factors that may increase your chance of having a chemical pregnancy:

  • Blood clot disorders
  • Progesterone deficiencies
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Illicit drug use
  • Advanced maternal age

Is there anything you can do to prevent a chemical pregnancy?

No, there is no way to prevent a chemical pregnancy, says Rachel Kassenoff, MD, an ob-gyn at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. In fact, it’s common. Studies have shown that as many as 40 percent of early pregnancies end in miscarriage. 

What is the difference between bleeding caused by a chemical pregnancy and implantation bleeding?

In normal, healthy pregnancies, light bleeding (spotting) can be caused when the embryo implants itself into the uterine lining. However, Dr. Kassenoff explains that the bleeding caused by a chemical pregnancy may be much heavier than your regular period and therefore easy to distinguish.

When should you call your doctor?

If you experience more than three consecutive pregnancy losses, consult your doctor.

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