Blighted Ovum Miscarriage: Causes, Treatment & Recovery

| Reviewed By Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN

One potential cause of miscarriage during the initial stages of pregnancy is a blighted ovum, which may not be detected by the expecting mother.

How long can you carry a blighted ovum? A blighted ovum will result in miscarriage usually between 7 and 12 weeks of pregnancy. Most women will discover they have a blighted ovum during their first ultrasound and will miscarry shortly after. The body may pass the embryo naturally, but other medical interventions may be necessary.

This article discusses the causes of a blighted ovum, symptoms, treatment, and the long-term outlook for fertility after experiencing an anembryonic pregnancy. 

Blighted Ovum Miscarriage

Unfortunately, blighted ovum miscarriages are not rare; in fact, it is the leading cause of early pregnancy loss. 

What Is a Blighted Ovum?

A blighted ovum, or anembryonic pregnancy, occurs when a fertilized egg implants into the uterine wall but the embryo does not develop or stops developing very early in the pregnancy leaving an empty gestational sac in the uterus. 

Blighted Ovum Miscarriage Process

A blighted ovum miscarriage usually occurs in the first trimester and often within the first few weeks of pregnancy. A fertilized egg implants around week 4, and the embryo will either never develop or stop developing shortly after.

You may experience pregnancy symptoms in the beginning, but they will subside once the embryo stops growing. Other women never realize they were pregnant. 

Oftentimes in the case of a blighted ovum, a woman will have a positive pregnancy test and will then experience symptoms of a miscarriage.

Other times, she may not discover it until her first ultrasound when only an empty gestational sac is present.

Regardless of when it occurs, a blighted ovum will always result in a miscarriage. Some women choose to wait until the miscarriage occurs naturally. Others may choose to take medicine in order to initiate the miscarriage process.

In some cases, a dilation and curettage (D&C) is necessary to remove the gestational sac.  

How Common Is Blighted Ovum?

A blighted ovum is the number one cause of first-trimester miscarriages. However, given that many early pregnancy losses are often missed entirely, it is hard to know exactly how common they are.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 10% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 50% of those are due to blighted ovum. 

Blighted Ovum Causes

A blighted ovum is non-preventable as it is often caused by chromosomal or genetic abnormalities during cell division.

Signs of Blighted Ovum

It may be difficult to know you have a blighted ovum without seeing your doctor. However, if your body has already started to pass the embryo on its own, you may experience blighted ovum symptoms or signs of an early miscarriage. 

1. Pregnancy Symptoms Are Present and Then Decline

You may still experience pregnancy symptoms even if you have a blighted ovum. This is because you were, at one point, pregnant.

A fertilized egg implanted in the uterine lining, the placenta, and the gestational sac began to form even though an embryo did not.

The placenta and empty sac will continue to release pregnancy hormones, even without an embryo present. This is what causes the pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness and breast tenderness. 

Eventually, the pregnancy symptoms will decline as your body recognizes the empty sac and begins to initiate the miscarriage process.

2. Light Spotting

Symptoms of a blighted ovum resemble those of a miscarriage. You may experience light spotting or blighted ovum discharge.

If you experience light bleeding or pass light-gray tissue or blood clots, you may be experiencing a blighted ovum miscarriage. 

3. Abdominal Cramping

Mild to moderate cramping in your pelvic or abdominal reason is a common symptom of a blighted ovum miscarriage. 

4. Abnormal Period

Perhaps you never realized you were pregnant and you experience an abnormal period. Perhaps your bleeding is heavier than usual, cramps are stronger, and you notice unusual discharge.

You may be experiencing a blighted ovum miscarriage without realizing it. Because these miscarriages usually occur very early in pregnancy, it is common for women to mistake their period for a miscarriage. 

An upset woman sitting on a couch holding her head in her hand.

How High Can HCG Get With Blighted Ovum?

HCG levels can, and often do, rise enough to result in a positive pregnancy test and trigger early pregnancy symptoms. 

Blighted Ovum, No Bleeding

It is possible to have a blighted ovum and not experience bleeding. In these cases, the body has not recognized that the embryo is not developing and still believes it is pregnant. You will not experience bleeding until the miscarriage begins. 

Diagnosing Blighted Ovum 

An ultrasound is the only way to truly diagnose a blighted ovum as it is the only way to detect an empty gestational sac.

Your healthcare provider will diagnose a blighted ovum using a transvaginal ultrasound, usually between 7 and 9 weeks of pregnancy.

At this time in pregnancy, an embryo should be visible. With a blighted ovum, the gestational sac will be empty and look like a bubble on the screen. 

If you’ve already experienced bleeding or signs of miscarriage, your provider may still use ultrasound to look at the contents of your uterus to see if a blighted ovum was the cause. 

Your Options

Discovering that you are experiencing a blighted ovum can trigger a variety of emotions — anger, grief, fear and worry being a few of them. One of the first things you may wonder about after the diagnosis is what the next step will look like. 

1. Allow Nature To Take It’s Course

For some women, medical treatment may not be necessary. As the body recognizes that there is no embryo development, it will begin to pass the embryo naturally and expel the contents of the uterus.

In these cases, the symptoms will be similar to a heavy period. Most of the time, especially early in pregnancy, doctors will recommend waiting to see if the body will pass the embryo on its own, which could take up to two weeks. 

There are other times when the body, for whatever reason, does not recognize that the embryo is no longer developing and continues to keep the embryo attached.

In these cases, other medical treatments or surgery may be necessary to clear the contents of the uterus. 

2. D&C

Dilation and curettage (D&C) is a surgical procedure to remove the contents of the uterus.

In this procedure, a healthcare provider will dilate, or open, the cervix and use medical tools and suction to remove the pregnancy tissues from the uterus. This is done under sedation or general anesthesia. 

3. Medications

If a blighted ovum has been diagnosed and the body does not seem to be initiating a miscarriage, a doctor may prescribe a medication that will trigger your body to miscarry.

This moves the process along and eliminates the time waiting for the miscarriage to start on its own. 

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Blighted Ovum?

Recovering from a blighted ovum miscarriage or D&C varies from woman to woman. Some women recover in a week or two, while others need a month to fully recover. 

You can resume normal activities when you feel comfortable. Be cautious, however, as strenuous exercise or activity can cause bleeding to increase. 

It may take a while for your hormones to regulate after a miscarriage. Most women experience a delayed menstrual cycle and will get their period within 4-6 weeks after the miscarriage. 

Your emotional recovery may take longer than your physical recovery from a miscarriage, and that is okay.

Take time to grieve and process what you experienced. Lean on your family and friends for support. Have hope, and take comfort in knowing that a blighted ovum does not affect your chances of having a healthy pregnancy in the future. 

Misdiagnosed Blighted Ovum

While uncommon, it is possible to misdiagnose a blighted ovum. This can happen if the dating is off with your pregnancy, for example, if you think that you are six or seven weeks along and you are actually five or fewer weeks into your pregnancy.

If pregnancy is detected very early on an ultrasound, there might only be a sac without an embryo present. In these rare cases, only time can tell the true diagnosis.

Successful Pregnancy After Blighted Ovum

Miscarriages can be scary and may make you question your fertility and ability to carry a child in the future, but having one anembryonic pregnancy is usually no cause for concern.

Statistics show you will likely have a normal and healthy pregnancy in the future, even immediately after a blighted ovum.

How To Avoid Anembryonic Pregnancy

Unfortunately, an anembryonic pregnancy cannot be prevented. Some couples who have experienced multiple miscarriages may choose to undergo genetic testing to determine the cause of their miscarriages.

However, there are no steps to take or things you can do in order to prevent a blighted ovum. 

Closing Thoughts 

Miscarriages can be devastating for everyone involved, and I truly sympathize with anyone who is experiencing or has experienced a pregnancy loss.

Know that you are not alone, and in the case of a blighted ovum miscarriage, there is hope that the next time will be better!