Today’s home pregnancy tests have improved dramatically, to the point where they are now almost 97% accurate. The technology has improved so much that women can now discover if they’re pregnant before they’ve even missed a period. But one of the unintended side effects of early pregnancy tests is subjecting women to a positive result on what will quickly become a chemical pregnancy. This heartbreaking occurrence may account for 50% to 75% of all miscarriages.

But what is a chemical pregnancy?

According to WhatToExpect.com, a chemical pregnancy occurs when, for some reason, a fertilized egg never fully implants in the uterus. However, just the act of starting implantation prompts the cells that would become the placenta begin to produce levels of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Chemical pregnancies take place before ultrasounds can detect a fetus, but not too early for a pregnancy test to detect levels of hCG. Daniel Roshan, M.D., an OB-GYN at Rosh Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Manhattan, says that a home pregnancy test only needs 50 units of hCG to return a positive result.

Often, the most common sign a woman had a chemical pregnancy is a late, heavy period. But women who are trying to conceive often test before they miss their periods, resulting in a positive pregnancy test.

Doctors estimate that most chemical pregnancies are due to chromosomal problems in the developing zygote. Inadequate uterine lining, low hormone levels, a Luteal phase defect, fibroids, or undiagnosed infections are other causes.

What prevents chemical pregnancies?

Most chemical pregnancies can’t be prevented, but if women have recurring chemical pregnancies they should definitely speak with their doctor. An OB/GYN can prescribe treatments like progesterone, estrogen, immunological treatments, or baby aspirin.

But good news! In most cases, a chemical pregnancy will not prevent a woman from getting pregnant in the future. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that pregnancy loss in the first trimester usually is a one-time event. Most women go on to have successful pregnancies, and repeated pregnancy losses are rare.

ACOG also says that women can become pregnant as soon as two weeks after a chemical pregnancy. While they do say that a woman “may want to wait until after she’s had a menstrual period so that calculating the due date of the next pregnancy is easier,” there is no medical reason to wait to begin trying again.

Emotionally, though, is another story.

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(Image: iStock / AndreyPopov)