Early Intrauterine Pregnancy: How to Spot It and What to Do Next

    Updated 27 August 2021 |
    Published 03 June 2020
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
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    An early intrauterine pregnancy refers to the presence of a pregnancy sac in your womb while your baby is still too small to see. Learn all the ins and outs of the definition, as well as what to expect in the event of an early intrauterine pregnancy.

    What is an early intrauterine pregnancy?

    What does intrauterine pregnancy mean? It’s when a gestational sac forms in your womb at an earlier stage in your pregnancy. Early intrauterine pregnancy is known to occur for one of two possible reasons:

    • You are, in fact, at a very early point in your pregnancy, and your embryo needs more time to grow and initiate a heartbeat. This frequently happens when the mother is unsure of her conception date, displays a history of irregular menstruation, or recently stopped taking birth control. 
    • Your pregnancy and your baby’s growth rate are not progressing at a standard pace. Once again, this happens when the mother is uncertain of her conception date, and the size of the fetus is inconsistent with how far along her pregnancy is.

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    How to spot an early intrauterine pregnancy

    Intrauterine pregnancy is typically diagnosed with a positive result on a pregnancy test. Then, a transvaginal scan is performed in order to confirm the existence of a gestational sac in your uterus. 

    How to handle an early intrauterine pregnancy

    If your doctor finds that your estimated conception date doesn’t match what’s showing up on the scan, a follow-up scan might be needed. It’s repeated one to two weeks after your initial scan, depending on the size of your embryo or pregnancy sac. This allows additional time for development. Hopefully, the second scan can confirm the date of conception and verify whether your pregnancy is proceeding at the proper rate. Discuss with your doctor possible next steps after being diagnosed with early intrauterine pregnancy. 

    What causes an early intrauterine pregnancy failure?

    Below are various potential causes of early intrauterine pregnancy failure or miscarriage:

    Abnormal chromosomes or genes

    The majority of miscarriages result from abnormal fetal growth. Approximately 50 percent of miscarriages are linked to missing or extra chromosomes, which is a completely random phenomenon. This occurs while your embryo divides and grows, and is not inherited from either parent. Chromosomal abnormalities could lead to:

    • Intrauterine fetal demise

    In this scenario, the fetus would cease to develop and die before any symptoms of pregnancy loss appear. 

    • Blighted ovum

    The embryo never begins to form.

    • Molar (and partial molar) pregnancy

    Both sets of the embryo’s chromosomes come from the father. A molar pregnancy is further characterized by abnormal placental tissues and lack of (or incomplete) fetal development. In partial molar pregnancies, the mother’s chromosomes remain, but the father still passes on two sets of chromosomes.

    Maternal health

    At times, a preexisting maternal medical condition could trigger a miscarriage. Contributing factors include: 

    • Uncontrolled diabetes

    Chronic conditions such as untreated diabetes put you and your baby’s safety in jeopardy. 

    • Hormonal issues

    Hormonal imbalances are capable of producing irregularities in your uterine lining, which affects implantation and nourishment of a fertilized egg.

    • Serious infections

    Maternal infections like malaria, cytomegalovirus, listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, syphilis, or HIV can create major complications.

    • Thyroid disease

    An overactive or underactive thyroid disrupts hormone levels and interferes with the proper development of your embryo. 

    • Cervical or uterine problems

    An incompetent cervix (with very weak cervical tissues) and specific abnormalities in the uterus raise the likelihood of miscarriage. 

    • Age

    Women older than 35 years of age have a 20 percent higher chance of miscarriage compared to women under 35. At age 40, this increases to 40 percent, and at age 45, it doubles once again to 80 percent. 

    • Prior miscarriages

    As expected, mothers with a history of two or more consecutive miscarriages are also at greater risk for another. However, it’s important to note that previous miscarriages don’t necessarily prevent you from eventually having a successful pregnancy

    • Alcohol, tobacco, and drug use

    Pregnant women who smoke, drink heavily, and use drugs drastically increase the possibility of miscarriage, as well as congenital defects.

    • Weight

    Being overweight or underweight is also dangerous for mother and child.

    It’s a common misconception that the following activities increase your chances of losing the baby:

    • Sexual intercourse

    Your little one is protected by amniotic fluid and a mucus plug.

    • Exercise 

    If you have always been an active person, you may continue exercising as long as you secure your doctor’s approval.

    • Continuing to work

    Be sure to steer clear of any harmful chemicals or hazardous conditions. 

    Lowering your chances for early intrauterine pregnancy failure

    Consider the following lifestyle variables to keep you and your baby-to-be happy and healthy:

    • Eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.
    • Avoid smoking, drinking, and doing drugs.
    • Maintain a healthy weight prior to conceiving.
    • Treat identified conditions, such as antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) or a weakened cervix, before pregnancy.

    When to see a doctor for intrauterine pregnancy

    Once you receive positive results on a pregnancy test, consult your doctor about any medical concerns you may have. Vaginal bleeding and spotting is a common sign of early intrauterine pregnancy failure. If you observe this, please seek medical attention right away.

    Takeaway

    What is intrauterine pregnancy? It’s a complex condition which can only be diagnosed via ultrasound. A follow-up screening is usually needed to confirm your doctor’s initial suspicions of early intrauterine pregnancy. Keep in mind that certain maternal health conditions and the presence of abnormal chromosomes or genes increase the chances of intrauterine pregnancy failure. 

    History of updates

    Current version (27 August 2021)

    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant

    Published (03 June 2020)

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