What Is a Chemical Pregnancy?

I had a friend who was over-the-moon overjoyed to be pregnant with her first baby, but when it came time to visit the doctor’s office for her prenatal visit, her joy quickly turned to sadness when she discovered that her pregnancy was actually a chemical pregnancy. 

I was devastated for her and honestly had never even heard of such a thing. I was curious: what exactly is a chemical pregnancy? 

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pregnancy test
Image via Flickr/ Daquella manera

A chemical pregnancy is a term used to describe when a woman’s body is making hCG, the pregnancy hormone, but there is no embryo or gestational sac forming. 

Chemical pregnancies may be detected with in-vitro fertilization, for example, if a woman is having blood tests done to test for the hCG hormone — a hormone that indicates pregnancy has occurred. Chemical pregnancy can also occur if a woman’s body is producing hCG but an embryo is not actually developed, such as with a blighted ovum, which is essentially an empty sac that can develop even for several weeks with nothing in it. 

In most cases, a chemical pregnancy happens without a woman even having any idea that it has occurred. As one study pointed out, you would really only know you had a chemical pregnancy if you tested your hCG levels before missing your period. 

Chemical pregnancies are diagnosed under active monitoring for pregnancy only if hCG levels are tested prior to a missed menstrual period.

What’s interesting is that the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology distinguish chemical pregnancies from clinical pregnancies, which could end in a miscarriage. To actually call a pregnancy a chemical pregnancy, you would have to demonstrate the following symptoms: “a low peak in hCG (<100 mIU/mL), a rapid fall in urinary or serum hCG concentration, and a lack of substantial delay in onset of the next menstrual period.”

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Even more interesting is the fact that chemical pregnancies are actually pretty common, it’s just that most women wouldn’t be monitoring their hCG levels that closely. For instance, one study tested the levels of hCG in women who were actively trying not to conceive and found that out of 105 conceptions that accidentally occurred, 18 ended in chemical pregnancies. The researchers found that most women who have chemical pregnancy tests will not have high enough hCG levels to produce a positive result on a conventional pregnancy test, but will still show similar ranges of hGC levels that characterize a chemical pregnancy. 

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So what does all of this mean? 

Well, I’m not sure exactly, other than the fact that to put it bluntly, it’s highly likely that every woman has been pregnant at one time or another and not even known it. And if you experience a chemical pregnancy, know that you are not alone. If you are actively trying to conceive, also be sure to talk to your care provider about the best time to test for best results. 

Have you experienced a chemical pregnancy? 

What do you think?

What Is a Chemical Pregnancy?

Chaunie Brusie is a coffee mug addict, a labor and delivery nurse turned freelance writer, and a young(ish) mom of four. She is the author of "Tiny Blue Lines: Preparing For Your Baby, Moving Forward In Faith, & Reclaiming Your Life In An Unplanned Pregnancy" and "The Moments That Made You A Mother". She also runs Passion Meets Practicality, a community of tips + inspiration for work-at-home mothers. ... More

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