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What is an Anembryonic Pregnancy?

by | March 22, 2019

An anembryonic pregnancy, or a blighted ovum, is a very early miscarriage. It occurs when a fertilized egg doesn’t develop into an embryo. This happens so early on in pregnancy that most women don’t even know that it’s happened.

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What is an Anembryonic Pregnancy?

In a healthy pregnancy, after ovulation, the egg is fertilized by a sperm, and it starts dividing almost immediately. Two cells divide into four, then eight, then sixteen and they continue to divide for about ten days or so until an embryo is formed inside a gestational sac. The sac then implants itself in the uterus, which in turn prompts the development of the placenta and a surge in pregnancy hormones. By week six of pregnancy, the embryo should be developed enough to be seen on an ultrasound.

In an anembryonic pregnancy, the fertilized egg may still implant in the uterus but fail to develop into an embryo, or the embryo stops developing at some stage. The levels of hCG (the pregnancy hormone) may still continue to increase as the placenta produces this hormone after implantation and may still continue to grow for a time. A doctor will diagnose a blighted ovum during an ultrasound around week eight if they see an empty gestational sac.

What causes an Anembryonic Pregnancy?

Research done in 2007 analyzed almost one hundred blighted ova. Upon analyzing the genetic material, researchers found that over two-thirds of them had abnormal chromosomes, in many cases, they either had an extra chromosome or were missing one, rather than the forty-six we are supposed to have. Some cases had genetic mutations. What this means is that the egg or embryos did not have the proper genetic material to continue to develop.

Signs or Symptoms of an Anembryonic Pregnancy

With an anembryonic pregnancy, you may have had a positive pregnancy test or a missed period, morning sickness, sore breasts and bloating.

You may have some signs of a miscarriage, such as:

  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Heavy bleeding

While some bleeding or spotting can be normal in early pregnancy, please see your healthcare provider if you do experience some of these symptoms, as you may be having a miscarriage.

Treating an Anembryonic Pregnancy.

Sometimes your body will recognize early on that there’s a problem, and it will evacuate the contents of the uterus on its own, similar to a period.

If your healthcare provider diagnoses an anembryonic pregnancy, there are a couple of treatment options they may suggest.

They may recommend waiting a few days or weeks to see if your body expels the blighted ovum naturally.

In some cases where the body does not expel the blighted ovum naturally, they may recommend a pill (misoprostol) which will cause the uterus to clear itself, or a surgical procedure called a dilation and curettage (D&C) to clear out the uterus.

Will an Anembryonic Pregnancy Affect your Fertility?

A study in 2009 of women with early miscarriages showed that around eighty percent went on to have a healthy pregnancy within five years.

If you experience repeated anembryonic pregnancies, your healthcare provider may recommend testing to rule out an underlying cause such as genetic mutation or hormonal imbalance.


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Julie Nealon

Associate Editor, New York USA | Contactable via [email protected]

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