Understanding Chemical Pregnancies: Early Miscarriages Explained

Upset young Asian woman holding a negative pregnancy test in her bathroom.

Getting your period after a positive pregnancy test can be confusing and disheartening. However, this scenario is more common than you might think and often is due to a chemical pregnancy, also known as a chemical miscarriage.

Chemical pregnancies are early pregnancy losses that occur shortly after implantation. They often go unnoticed unless a woman is actively testing for pregnancy using sensitive tests. In the case of chemical pregnancies, the initial positive test accurately detected the presence of a pregnancy, but unfortunately, the pregnancy was not viable.

Having a chemical pregnancy doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you or that you won’t be able to have a healthy baby in the future. Many people who experience early miscarriages go on to have successful pregnancies.

What is a Chemical Pregnancy?

A chemical pregnancy refers to an early miscarriage that typically happens within the first five weeks of pregnancy. It is called a "chemical" pregnancy because it is a pregnancy that has not been verified through ultrasound and can only be detected through chemical means, such as a positive pregnancy test.

What Happens in a Chemical Pregnancy or Early Miscarriage?

In pregnancy, a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall about three weeks after the first day of your last menstrual period. Cells that would become the placenta begin to produce the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This means by the time you have missed your next period, the levels of hCG are usually high enough to detect on a blood or urine test.

With a chemical pregnancy, the cells don’t go on to develop into a viable embryo and placenta. Consequently, the embryo ceases to develop, and miscarriage begins. This leads to a decline in hCG levels, which means that another pregnancy test may come back with a negative result.

Chemical pregnancies are the most common type of early pregnancy loss, often happening before you may even know you are pregnant. As many as 1 in 4 pregnancies are lost before missing a period.

What Are the Signs of Chemical Pregnancy?

Identifying a chemical pregnancy can be challenging since it’s an early miscarriage that often goes unnoticed. The signs of a chemical pregnancy are usually minimal, and most women only realize they’ve had a chemical miscarriage if they received a positive pregnancy test result followed by their period or a negative test result.

If the pregnancy has continued long enough before the early miscarriage takes place, then you may experience some of these signs of a chemical pregnancy:

  • Delayed period – Depending on when the chemical pregnancy terminates, your period might arrive on time or be delayed by a few days or weeks.

  • Positive pregnancy test followed by a negative pregnancy test – In a chemical pregnancy, hormones decline swiftly after the early miscarriage, so a urine or blood pregnancy test may be positive until hormones decline to pre-pregnancy levels. Once they return to the baseline level, any pregnancy test that detects hCG will be negative.

  • Mild cramping – Early miscarriages may cause cramping similar to or slightly heavier than normal period cramps. Severe cramping requires medical attention.

  • Bleeding – During a chemical pregnancy, you may experience bleeding in the days following a positive pregnancy test. In rare instances, chemical pregnancies may result in heavy bleeding or hemorrhaging, potentially causing anemia. In such cases, seeking medical attention is necessary to address the situation.

Other common early signs of pregnancy include nausea and vomiting, breast tenderness and enlargement, fatigue, cravings for foods, and increased frequency of urination, particularly at night.

If you suspect a chemical pregnancy or have had a positive pregnancy test followed by negative results, consult a healthcare professional for further assessment. Chemical pregnancies are common, and don’t necessarily impact your chances of a successful pregnancy in the future. However, if you’re concerned about your fertility, seeking advice from a healthcare provider is recommended.

Distressed Asian woman on a couch, holding a smartphone with a worried expression, receiving bad news on the screen.

What Are the Causes of a Chemical Pregnancy?

Most early pregnancy losses, including chemical pregnancies, can be attributed to abnormalities within the embryo’s genetic structure. These chromosomal abnormalities occur randomly and can affect anyone. However, the likelihood of chromosomal abnormalities increases significantly with age.

Was I Pregnant if I Had a Chemical Pregnancy?

Yes, you were pregnant if you had a chemical pregnancy. In a viable pregnancy, following conception, the fertilized egg called a zygote, moves through the fallopian tube into the uterus, where it implants itself in the uterine wall. At this stage, the zygote cells start dividing, and the zygote becomes an embryo. After 8 weeks have passed, the embryo then becomes a fetus.

A chemical pregnancy occurs when fertilization of an egg and sperm takes place, but the resulting combination fails to develop into a fully formed embryo. Although conception technically occurs, the pregnancy does not continue. In this case, the initial positive test accurately detected the presence of pregnancy, but the pregnancy was not viable.

If You Had a Positive Pregnancy Test Then Negative Next Day

If you have taken a pregnancy test and got a positive result, then taken a second test later that day or week that had a negative result, this could be a symptom of a chemical pregnancy. If you suspect you may have experienced a chemical pregnancy or encountered a positive pregnancy test followed by negative results, seek medical advice and support. Remember that you are not alone, and there are resources available to help navigate this journey.

If You’re Unsure About Your Pregnancy Test Results:

If you find yourself unsure about the accuracy of your pregnancy test results, follow these helpful tips:

  • If you still haven’t gotten your period, wait a day or two and retest. This allows more time for hCG levels to increase (or decrease in the case of a chemical pregnancy), providing a clearer result.

  • Take the test first thing in the morning or after holding your urine for several hours. This helps ensure the concentration of hCG in your urine is not diluted from daily fluid intake.

  • Use the test immediately after opening the test envelope. Always check the expiration date to ensure the test is still reliable.

  • If you’re unsure about a faint line on your pregnancy test, consider using a digital pregnancy test. Unlike tests that rely on color changes, digital pregnancy tests display clear “Yes” or “No” and “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant” results that are easy to read.

If you’re still uncertain or have further concerns, consult a healthcare professional for additional guidance.

Coping with a Chemical Pregnancy or Early Miscarriage

Experiencing a chemical pregnancy can be challenging, especially when you’re actively trying to get pregnant. It’s healthy and natural to have pangs of grief, sadness, disappointment, confusion, and even relief during the loss of a pregnancy of any sort.

Remember: If you find yourself dealing with tough emotions after an early miscarriage, don’t suffer alone. Reach out to your healthcare or mental health professional for help. There are also online communities such as the FIRST RESPONSE Pregnancy Hub

First Response™ Pregnancy Tests: Early Detection and Assurance

When it comes to potential pregnancy, the earlier – and the faster – you can know, the better. First Response™ offers a variety of pregnancy tests designed to provide early detection and reassurance.

The First Response™ Early Result Pregnancy Test is engineered to confirm pregnancy as soon as 6 days before your missed period. Details on early testing can be found in the package instructions.

The First Response™ Comfort Check Pregnancy Test includes 3 Early Result Pregnancy Test Sticks and 5 Test Strips in one package. This kit allows you to test with ease and confidence while awaiting pregnancy.

The content provided on this page is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.