The excitement of receiving a positive result on a pregnancy test, only to then take another test and receive a negative (or begin your period shortly after) can be extremely disappointing and confusing. Your hCG levels are decreasing - not increasing - and you’re told that you’ve experienced a ‘chemical pregnancy’. What does this mean? Were you ever pregnant in the first place? Did you receive a false positive?
Simply stated, a chemical pregnancy is a clinical term for a very early miscarriage. It happens before an ultrasound could even detect a heartbeat (before the 5th week of gestation). This occurs when an egg is fertilized but it does not implant on the uterine wall. Chemical pregnancies are actually quite common, occurring in 50 - 60% of first pregnancies. Often, a chemical pregnancy goes unnoticed, and appears to be just a late period. However, with the high-sensitivity, early-detection pregnancy tests that are on the market now, it’s not uncommon to detect a chemical pregnancy.
There are many possible causes of chemical pregnancy – inadequate uterine lining, low hormone levels, luteal phase defect, infection, or other unknown reasons. The most common assumption is that they are due to chromosomal problems in the developing fetus. This can result from poor sperm or egg quality, genetic abnormalities from either mother or father, or abnormal cell division of the fetus. Some women may experience some symptoms of a chemical pregnancy – spotting, their period may be a few days late, or even cramping – however, most women don’t ‘feel’ different and wouldn’t know they had a chemical pregnancy unless they had taken a pregnancy test.
For women that are actively trying-to-conceive, the news of a chemical pregnancy can be devastating – particularly after celebrating your positive pregnancy test. You may be concerned about future pregnancies, too. The good news is that a chemical pregnancy shouldn’t interfere with your ability to get pregnant again. It is always good to touch base with your doctor, but it’s typically recommended to wait at least one menstrual cycle to begin trying-to-conceive again. If recurring chemical pregnancies occur, consult with your ObGyn to determine the right course of treatment for you.