Fertilized Egg Not Turning Into Embryo – What Empty Pregnancy Means To You?
There is no compensation for the tremendous emotional toll the miscarriage takes on an expecting mother. There are many complications that may end up in a miscarriage but if the end of pregnancy occurs too early, it may be because of blighted ovum. Let’s discuss this condition in detail.
A blighted ovum is a kind of early miscarriage in which a fertilized egg never develops into an embryo. The fertilization and implantation in the uterus do take place but it doesn’t turn into an embryo. The placenta and the embryonic sac forms but remain empty. Hence, there is no growing baby inside.
Blighted ovum is also known with other terms such as empty pregnancy, anembryonic (no embryo) pregnancy or anembryonic gestation.
What if pregnancy test shows positive results?
A blighted ovum when diagnosed will eventually result in a miscarriage. It will never turn into a viable pregnancy. The placenta in the uterus will produce hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) hormone that shows positive result in blood and urine pregnancy test, even though the pregnancy is not actually progressing.
One might also experience signs of early pregnancy such as sore breasts and nausea, but if it is empty pregnancy, it will eventually lead to a miscarriage.
How common blighted ovum is?
A blighted ovum or empty pregnancy is a common cause of miscarriage. It is hard to know exactly how common it is as not all cases are diagnosed and the pregnancy may end up even before you realize you are pregnant. According to some estimates, around 20 percent of pregnancies end up in miscarriage and 80 percent of these miscarriages occur in the first trimester.
Experts suggest that miscarriages before 8 weeks occur due to blighted ovum.
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Signs and symptoms of blighted ovum – How do I know if the pregnancy is empty?
As mentioned, the miscarriage due to blighted ovum may occur even before you come to know you are pregnant. When this occurs, you might think you have heavier than normal period or you missed your period for a couple of weeks.
You may experience similar symptoms of pregnancy such as sore breast, nausea and missed periods, but it may or may not be a viable pregnancy. However, when the pregnancy ends, you might experience signs associated with miscarriage including:
Reasons behind blighted ovum - What causes the fertilized egg not turn into an embryo?
One thing is clear, the condition is not related to anything you did or did not do during the pregnancy. The exact reason behind this condition is not known. It is believed that it occurs due to chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg.
This may be a result of abnormal cell division, poor sperm or egg quality that makes the pregnancy non-viable right in the beginning.
How blighted ovum is diagnosed?
A blighted ovum typically occurs between 8-13 weeks of pregnancy. The early pregnancy tests might show that the pregnancy is progressing fine. However, until and unless the first ultrasound is conducted, the condition remains undiagnosed. The sonogram can reveal the placenta and empty embryonic sac.
The doctor may also perform transvaginal ultrasound if the regular ultrasound remains indecisive. If the pregnancy is not progressing adequately, the doctor might request a follow-up after 10 days.
Treatment - Is miscarriage or abortion the only option?
If you have blighted ovum and it’s discovered during the regular prenatal tests, then your gynecologist will put several options in front of you.
Wait for natural miscarriage
The doctor will either suggest waiting for the miscarriage to occur naturally or may suggest other options. A natural miscarriage would sometimes take weeks and may require continuous monitoring.
Another option is to deliberately bring on miscarriage through medication such as misoprostol. These oral pills cause the cervix to soften and clear the tissue inside.
The doctor would suggest surgical procedure such as dilation and curettage to remove the abnormal tissue from the womb. The cervix of the pregnant women is dilated (widen) and contents of the uterus are removed using a tool called curette.
This procedure may also help a woman to recover from physical and mental trauma more quickly as the miscarriage was understandable. You may want to discuss all the options, their side effects and the risks associated with it.
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Effects of blighted ovum on future pregnancies
Let’s clear this right off the bat that majority of these cases are one-off event, not happening again. This means women who suffered miscarriage from blighted ovum will give birth to healthy babies in future. All they need to discuss with the doctor is how long they should wait for the next pregnancy, the medical history, and general health conditions.
Doctors generally recommend waiting for three menstrual cycles before trying to conceive again. This will ensure full recovery of the body. During this recovery period, a woman must focus on healthy lifestyle including regular exercising, healthy eating, taking prenatal supplements including folate and keeping stress at bay.
A woman must also discuss factors associated with miscarriage with the doctor for a clearer picture. These factors include genetics, sperm and egg quality. The doctor might recommend the following testing:
- Preimplantation genetic screening (PGD) which analyzes any genetic defects in the embryo before implantation. This is usually done during in vitro fertilization.
- Semen analysis that checks quantity, motility, and quality of the sperm.
- Tests such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) or anti-mullerian hormone (AMH). These tests help in improving egg quality.
The exact cause as to why empty pregnancy occurs is not known. However, chromosomal abnormalities is considered to be the biggest factor. Secondly, having blighted ovum does not mean you are destined for another one. Most women will experience healthy pregnancies afterwards.
If you have history of repeated miscarriage or worried about this condition, you may want to discuss with your gynecologist in detail. He may guide you through all the risk factors as well as various testing so that the condition can be avoided in future.
1. Shekoohi S, et al. (2013). Chromosomal study of couples with a history of recurrent spontaneous abortions with diagnosed blighted ovum read more
2. Blighted Ovum (2015, August). American Pregnancy Association read more
3. de La Rochebrochard E, et al. (2002). Paternal age and maternal age are risk factors for miscarriage; results of a muticentre European study read more
4. Overcoming a ‘pseudo pregnancy’: Blighted ovums can cause miscarriage. (n.d.). Doctors of osteopathic medicine read more