When a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterus but doesn’t develop into an embryo, it’s called a blighted ovum. When this happens, the gestational sac and placenta continue to develop for some weeks, even if the embryo isn’t growing. A blighted ovum eventually results in a natural miscarriage.
In the case of a blighted ovum, the placenta continues to grow. This causes the levels of the woman’s pregnancy hormone, the human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG, to rise. Because of this, a blighted ovum will result in a positive pregnancy test and pregnancy symptoms, despite being an unviable pregnancy. In some cases, you might not know you have a blighted ovum until you get an ultrasound scan.
What causes a blighted ovum?
If you have a blighted ovum, it’s important to know that there’s nothing you could’ve done to prevent it. Researchers are still trying to find out exactly what causes a blighted ovum. Some possible reasons could be a chromosomal abnormality in the embryo or a poor-quality egg or sperm. The risk of miscarriage due to a blighted ovum also increases if your partner is biologically related to you.
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At first, blighted ovum symptoms may seem exactly the same as those of a viable pregnancy:
- positive pregnancy test
- sore breasts
- missed period
Later on, you may notice the following symptoms of early miscarriage within the first trimester:
- vaginal spotting or bleeding
- abdominal cramps
- a period that is heavier than usual
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be having a miscarriage. However, there may be other reasons for bleeding in the first trimester. Make sure to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and confirm the cause.
Because of the growing placenta and rising hCG levels because of the growing placenta, initially diagnosing a blighted ovum can be difficult. An ultrasound is the only way to be sure. In a viable pregnancy, an ultrasound test usually reveals an embryo at around six or seven weeks. In the case of a blighted ovum, the ultrasound scan will reveal an empty gestational sac with no embryo.
How to prevent misdiagnosis of a blighted ovum:
It is possible to have a blighted ovum misdiagnosed during early pregnancy. Your doctor will typically check your hormone levels and perform a second ultrasound a week later to see if the sac is still empty.
If your doctor has confirmed a blighted ovum, know that you’re not alone. This condition has affected many women. Because the embryo isn’t properly developed, the only option for a blighted ovum is an eventual miscarriage. Some women choose to wait for this to happen naturally, and some prefer to seek medical help to trigger it.
Here are a few possible options that you can discuss with your doctor:
- Dilation and curettage (D&C): Some women opt for a dilation and curettage. In this procedure, the doctor dilates the cervix and removes the contents of the uterus. A D&C immediately ends the pregnancy, and some women find this helps with emotional closure. Your doctor will be sure to fully inspect the pregnancy and definitively confirm a blighted ovum before proceeding with a D&C.
- Medication: The doctor may give you oral or vaginal medication that induces a miscarriage. It may take several days for all the tissue to be expelled and can cause nausea and cramps.
- Waiting for the miscarriage to happen naturally: Since a blighted ovum eventually leads to a miscarriage, some women choose to wait for the process to occur naturally. Make sure to keep your doctor updated and let them know if there is persistent heavy bleeding for more than two weeks.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a blighted ovum, it might be difficult news to process. It’s completely natural to have feelings of loss and grief. The good news is that if you want to get pregnant again in the future, this condition will not harm your chances. Many women with a blighted ovum have gone on to have multiple viable pregnancies.
While you can technically get pregnant again as soon as your periods return, we recommend that you wait for about three months to fully heal after a miscarriage. In the case of a D&C procedure, the uterine lining might initially be too thin for successful implantation. Your hCG levels also need to go back to zero before getting pregnant again. Your doctor can help you decide how much time to wait before trying for another pregnancy.
A blighted ovum happens when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterus but doesn’t develop an embryo. This condition eventually leads to miscarriage, usually in the first trimester. The initial signs of a blighted ovum are similar to a viable pregnancy since the placenta continues to grow and releases hCG, the pregnancy hormone. Women diagnosed with the condition can choose to wait and miscarry naturally or opt for a medically assisted miscarriage. Most women who have a blighted ovum go on to have viable pregnancies and healthy babies. If you have faced multiple miscarriages, make sure to talk to your doctor so they can help you find the correct diagnosis and treatment options.