What Is a Chemical Pregnancy and Is It a Miscarriage?


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.

A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage. The sperm and the egg have met, but while conception has taken place, development beyond chemical changes in the woman's body don’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.

Thus, the pregnancy chemicals, hormones, and cells have started to multiply, but the other physical attributes of a pregnancy have not. That’s why this early form of miscarriage is called a chemical pregnancy. It's a pregnancy that ended when the only detectable evidence of it was through a hormone test and not through an ultrasound, or physical examination by a doctor.

Is It a Real Miscarriage?

Yes. It was a real pregnancy and it is a real miscarriage.

In fact, it should really be called an early miscarriage since the term “chemical pregnancy” implies that the pregnancy wasn’t real or that it was some kind of mix-up.

What Is the Difference?

The only difference between the two is time. Both are the loss of a pregnancy, but they take place at difference stages in the development process of the baby.

Often, and quite unfortunately, very early miscarriages are not thought of as real pregnancies or miscarriages when in fact they are both. And while the physical recovery process is different in a later-term miscarriage than in an early-term one, both bring grief and disappointment.


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 at around three or four weeks pregnant. So basically, this occurs at about the time that a woman’s body is producing just enough hCG (the pregnancy hormone) to receive a positive result on a home pregnancy test.

What’s even more confusing about this kind of pregnancy is that they often go unnoticed because they 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.

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.


Are They Painful or Dangerous?

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.

Since some go undetected, they are not typically considered dangerous. That being said, 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 They 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 occurred, it happened incorrectly or that there was a chromosomal defect in the fertilized egg that caused the woman’s body to reject it.

These early miscarriages happen much more frequently than anyone realizes. In fact, half of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and many of these cases are chemical pregnancies.


How to Get Support

Whether the pregnancy was planned or not, going through a miscarriage at any stage can be totally devastating. 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 pointer 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 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.
  • 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. 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.

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.

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Comments 23 comments

Heatherg713 3 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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Kierstin Gunsberg 3 years ago Author

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 =)

DaisyMiller 2 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?

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Kierstin Gunsberg 2 years ago Author

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).

Charlotte 2 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. :)

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Kierstin Gunsberg 2 years ago Author

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))

Christina 2 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!

Paula 2 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.

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Pregnancy Now 2 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!

Susie 23 months 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

shygirl 23 months ago

Unfortunately mercury was in retrograde on Oct. 4-26

shygirl 23 months 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. .

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Kierstin Gunsberg 23 months ago Author

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.

Sharetth Hyde profile image

Sharetth Hyde 23 months 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 image

Kierstin Gunsberg 22 months ago Author

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.

dessiree 21 months 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 image

Kierstin Gunsberg 21 months ago Author

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!

Hiba 21 months 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

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Kierstin Gunsberg 20 months ago Author

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.

Katie 15 months 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.

Miranda 12 months 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?

Heison 11 months 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.

KB 8 months ago


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?

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