Although the term may not be familiar to most people, a blighted ovum is actually a fairly common pregnancy complication. Also known as an embryonic pregnancy, a blighted ovum refers to the failure of the fetus to develop despite the fact that normal conception, implantation and growth of the placenta having taken place. Credited as causing 50% to 60% of all first trimester miscarriages, a blighted ovum will always end in pregnancy loss within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
You Thought You Were Pregnant
Most women who have a blighted ovum will feel as though they are pregnant. This is because normal fertilization and implantation occur causing a placenta to develop which leads to the production of hCG, the "pregnancy hormone." It is this hormone that is responsible for the common symptoms of pregnancy, such as nausea, causing women to naturally assume that they are pregnant and everything is just as it should be.
However, while hCG levels do rise in blighted ovum pregnancies, they increase very slowly and will actually begin to taper off eventually. Falling hCG levels is often the first sign that something may be wrong with your pregnancy.
Why Does It Happen?
Unforutnately, the exact cause of a blighted ovum is unknown. However, most experts reason that some sort of chromosomal abnormality with either the egg or sperm prevents normal development from occurring. As a result, your body senses that something is not quite right with the fertilized egg and stops developing it. Many consider this to be your body’s natural way of ensuring a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Although chromosomal abnormalities are suspected, they are not thought to indicative of future problems. Additionally, a blighted ovum usually happens no more than once. Therefore, you will not be referred for genetic testing unless you experience two or more consecutive miscarriages.
In some cases, a blighted ovum may occur in a twin pregnancy. In this instance, one of the fertilized eggs fails to develop properly while the second does. However, the blighted ovum does not interfere with development of the second fertilized egg. In a twin pregnancy, a blighted ovum may also be referred to as a blighted twin.
Signs of a Blighted Ovum
Symptoms of a blighted ovum pregnancy include spotting, cramps, vaginal bleeding as your hCG levels begin to fall, and/or failure to detect a fetal heartbeat by the 12th week of pregnancy. Additionally, an ultrasound showing an empty gestational sac can confirm that you have a blighted ovum.
Treating a Blighted Ovum
Most health care providers agree that it is best to let your body deal with the blighted ovum naturally, which it does most of the time. In some instances, the body may miscarry the pregnancy while in others the body will simply reabsorb the fertilized egg. A reabsorbed egg will likely cause you to experience a heavier than usual period or notice clots in your period. By allowing your body to handle the blighted ovum itself, you can avoid potential scarring thereby ensuring your fertility health.
However, once a blighted ovum has been discovered, many women find it far too upsetting to just wait for a miscarriage to occur. In these instances, as well as for women who may have an infection or are experiencing heavy bleeding, it is possible to have either a suction curettage or dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure done.
In suction curettage, your doctor will gently vacuum out the products of conception. This may be done under general or local anesthetic. For a D&C, you’re cervix is dilated and the sides of your uterus are scraped down to ensure that all tissue has been removed. Again, anesthetic is usually used. These procedures are done to ensure that you do not suffer from an infection later on. Although both procedures are safe, there is a risk of scarring, which may affect your fertility.
Getting Pregnant Again
Pregnancy after a blighted ovum is usually no problem as a blighted ovum does not affect your fertility. However, most doctors will recommend that you wait anywhere from one to three months before trying to conceive again. You may choose to wait even longer than that, though, as experiencing a miscarriage can be emotionally upsetting. Even if you are physically ready to conceive, you may not be emotionally ready. Take your time to grieve if that is what feels right for you.