Miscarriage is a sensitive topic. One that many people, for a variety of reasons, do not feel comfortable talking about, even though approximately 25 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. And of those miscarriages, 75 percent occur in the first trimester. There are many types of early miscarriage, and a blighted ovum is just one of them.
In this post we’ll explain exactly what a blighted ovum is, plus:
- What causes a blighted ovum?
- How is a blighted ovum diagnosed?
- How is a blighted ovum treated?
- Can I prevent a blighted ovum?
What is a Blighted Ovum?
A blighted ovum, also called anembryonic (no embryo) pregnancy or anembryonic gestation, occurs when a fertilized egg stops developing or is reabsorbed during early pregnancy.
Blighted ovum is the most common cause of early miscarriage, occurring in 50 percent of first trimester miscarriages, and usually happens between weeks 8 and 13. It can also happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy before a woman experiences a missed period. (source)
What Causes a Blighted Ovum?
The causes of blighted ovum are generally unknown, but experts believe most cases are due to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo. (source) Research shows that age and genetic susceptibility may also play a role in early pregnancy miscarriages.
Studies show this particular gene polymorphism could also be the cause if you have repeated blighted ovums.
Though it doesn’t make pregnancy loss any easier, it’s important to know there is nothing you can do to prevent a blighted ovum.
If you have two or more early stage miscarriages you should speak to your doctor about performing tests to rule out any underlying causes. (source)
Blighted Ovum hCG Levels
Though some women may have a blighted ovum miscarriage before they even realized they were pregnant, other women experience early signs of pregnancy. This happens when the fertilized egg causes the body to begin producing human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).
Even after the embryo has stopped developing, your body many still produce hCG for a short time.
Since hCG is the hormone detected in at-home pregnancy tests, it is possible to get a positive pregnancy test with a blighted ovum—even after the embryo has stopped developing.
Despite these signs of pregnancy and even a positive pregnancy test, an ultrasound will show an empty gestational sac or a lack of heartbeat. (source)
How is a Blighted Ovum Diagnosed?
Blighted ovums are generally diagnosed during the first ultrasound when there is no embryo and/or no heartbeat. It is almost impossible to diagnose an early blighted ovum without a trip to the doctor for an ultrasound.
Since a blighted ovum can occur so early in pregnancy that a woman thinks the miscarriage is simply the arrival of her period, some blighted ovums go undiagnosed.
If not diagnosed by an ultrasound, you may suspect a blighted ovum if early pregnancy signs subside or if you experience heavier than normal bleeding. Call your doctor or midwife with any concerns.
Can the Diagnosis Be Wrong?
It is possible that the date of conception could be wrong. If you conceived later than you originally thought, it is possible, although unusual, that an ultrasound was simply too early to see any fetal development. According to Dr. Judith Reichman, many doctors and midwives will not make a final diagnosis of a blighted ovum until hormone levels are checked and a second ultrasound is performed a week later to check if the sac remains empty.
There is a small (about 1 in 250 or 0.4%) chance that a tubal or ectopic pregnancy may be misdiagnosed as a blighted ovum. (source) Ectopic pregnancy is not viable and is a very serious condition that requires medical treatment. A follow-up ultrasound a few weeks after a diagnosis of a blighted ovum, especially if a natural passing of the baby has not occurred, is important to rule out ectopic or tubal pregnancy.
Treatment for Blighted Ovum
Expectant Management is simply letting nature take its course. This treatment plan, which essentially waits for the body to naturally miscarry, is for women who are at 13 weeks or earlier in pregnancy.
Research suggests that 80 percent of women can have a natural miscarriage without complications.
There are several natural remedies to support this process:
- Castor Oil Packs: A piece of cloth soaked in castor oil applied topically (externally) to the pelvic area where the uterus is located can help ease cramps. Though research is fairly limited, there are some studies that suggest ingesting castor oil is an effective way to stimulate labor.
- Red Light Therapy: Red light therapy, or low-level laser therapy (LLLT), is a non-invasive treatment that employs low energy lasers or light emitting diodes (LEDs). (source) Exposure to this form of light has been shown to improve skin conditions and some research suggests it can even promote healing and provide pain relief. (source) It is a non-invasive, safe, and relatively budget-friendly option available at some spas and dermatology offices.
- Rest: This may sound simple, but one of the most important things you can do for your body when it has experienced trauma is to rest. Even if you are not feeling a lot of pain, your body is healing and you may also be dealing with emotional trauma as well. It’s ok to take a step back from commitments and even take a few days off from work to support the healing process.
What If I Don’t Want to or Can’t Miscarry Naturally?
After 10 weeks gestation, the chance of incomplete miscarriage (and resulting infection) goes up, but you may still be able to pass the tissue on your own. Some women may feel a medically assisted miscarriage is safe or will help provide closure. Always consult with your healthcare provider about what’s right for you. (source)
When Is a D&C Necessary?
If the bleeding and cramping last longer than 2 weeks, you may need to consider medical help, like prescription misoprostol (similar to what they use for induction) to avoid infection or hemorrhage.
A more invasive option is a D&C. This is a surgical procedure to remove conception tissue after a pregnancy loss. Although sometimes medically necessary, there are risks associated with a D&C, which is why they are not recommended in early miscarriages. Studies suggest risks include:
- Hemorrhage or heavy bleeding
- Infection in the uterus or other pelvic organs
- Perforation or puncture to the uterus
- Laceration or weakening of the cervix
- Scarring of the uterus or cervix, which may require further treatment
- Incomplete procedure that requires another procedure to be performed
You can read more about D&Cs in this post.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent a Blighted Ovum?
The short answer is no. Blighted Ovum is generally believed to be due to chromosomal abnormalities that are not due to underlying health issues.
However, you could focus on improving your egg quality (and your partner’s sperm quality) by making these lifestyle changes:
- Go organic. Pesticides and healthy sperm don’t mix. In one study men who ate more than 1.5 servings of fruits and vegetables with pesticides residue had 49 percent lower sperm count and 32 percent lower percentage of normal sperm than men who ate less than 0.5 serving per day. They also had a lower sperm counts, lower ejaculate volumes, and lower percentages of normal sperm.
- Be sure to eat a well-balanced and high-variety diet. Get all of your macro and micronutrients in each day. Or consider taking a prenatal now as extra insurance.
- Try strategic supplementation. In studies, DHEA and CoQ10 improved egg quality and/or pregnancy outcome. Good food sources include: yam, soy, eggs, and salmon.
- Reduce stress. In one study, women with high stress levels were 12 percent less likely to conceive than counterparts with lower stress levels.
- Get enough sleep: There are a number of studies that suggest there may be a correlation between sleep disturbances and reproductive health. In one study, women with diminished ovarian reserve were found to be 30 times more likely to have disturbed sleep.
- Do moderate exercises. Research suggests fertility rates are slightly higher in women who engage in moderate activities—walking or yoga, for example—for any length of time.
Healing After a Blighted Ovum
Any miscarriage, even in the first few weeks of pregnancy, is a loss. If you are reading this article because you have personally experienced this, I am so sorry for your loss. Despite the early gestational age, it is natural to grieve the loss of your baby. I know I did.
If you are struggling with the feelings of loss after an early miscarriage, talk to someone about it. It can be your partner, a friend, a family member, or a mental health professional. You do not have to deal with the grief of a miscarriage on your own. (Click here for more suggestions.)
As long as you feel emotionally and physically ready, there is no reason to wait. You can begin trying to conceive again the first cycle after a miscarriage due to a blighted ovum. (Source)
Most women who experience a blighted ovum go on to have later successful pregnancies. In fact, a subsequent pregnancy after experiencing a blighted ovum is no more likely to result in a miscarriage than any other normal pregnancy. (source)
If you run into trouble conceiving, you may want to check out this post for ways to increase your fertility and, of course, always work with your healthcare provider.
How About You?
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