A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage that occurs before 5 weeks of pregnancy. It happens when the egg has been fertilized by the sperm and becomes an embryo, but the embryo never implants in the uterine lining, implants improperly, or arrests in development before any evidence of the pregnancy can be detected on ultrasound. Women who experience a chemical pregnancy may not even know they are pregnant and only notice a late period (about a week or so late) that may be unusually heavy or clotted. It is also possible to see a positive pregnancy test, only to get a period a week or so later.
Chemical pregnancies can occur for a variety of reasons: a chromosomal abnormality with the embryo, luteal phase defect (insufficient progesterone) or other hormonal imbalance, implantation outside of the uterus, an infection or inflammation in the uterus, a blood-clotting disorder, an insufficient or malformed uterine lining, or other anatomical problems in the uterus.
Just as there are many potential causes of chemical pregnancy (and later miscarriages) according to conventional medicine, so too are there various imbalances that could cause a chemical pregnancy in Chinese medicine.
With my patients, I use Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis to determine whether my patient has insufficient yang, qi collapse, blood stagnation, or heat in the blood.
Patients with weak yang have poor circulation and run a bit colder. Often their progesterone levels are not as high as they should be, and their luteal phase might be short. With this diagnosis, I prescribe yang tonic herbs, which do not supplement progesterone directly, but help the body to make more of this hormone over time.
Patients with qi collapse are often tired and have periods that are very heavy to start with. Sometimes they spot before their period. I give them an acupuncture treatment in their luteal phase that raises qi and also give them a luteal phase herbal formula with a similar action.
Patients with blood stagnation have blood that does not flow smoothly, causing malformation of the uterine lining and making it hard for an embryo to implant. These patients are hard to treat with herbs because the herbs that move blood in the uterus are contraindicated in pregnancy. I usually give blood-moving herbs during the period to help develop a healthy endometrial lining later in the cycle. If the dense tissue has become a fibroid or polyps I usually send the patient to their gynecologist to find out if these need to be removed.
Heat in the blood often correlates to an infection in conventional medicine. I give the patient herbs to help with this but also refer them to their GYN for detailed testing and possibly some antibiotics.
A chemical pregnancy is a miscarriage, and can be emotionally devastating to a woman who has been trying to conceive. A single chemical pregnancy, however, may carry a silver lining – it indicates that a woman can indeed become pregnant. If you suspect that you may have been briefly pregnant, be sure to mention this to your acupuncturist and your physician. A good health care practitioner will take you seriously and work with you to help you find a solution.
As many Yinova patients know, we are enthusiastic advocates of a combined approach when it comes to getting pregnant. I always encourage women to consult their doctor and take advantage of the best that both conventional and Chinese medicine has to offer.