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What is a Blighted Ovum?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A blighted ovum is a fertilized egg which implants in the uterine wall, but does not develop. Typically, a blighted ovum results in a miscarriage, and this type of pregnancy is estimated to account for approximately half of first trimester miscarriages. While a blighted ovum technically doesn't even progress to the stage of becoming a fetus, it still feels like a pregnancy, and many women grieve the loss of the pregnancy, which is entirely appropriate. As a general rule, within one to three months, women can try for a new pregnancy.

The most common reason for a blighted ovum to develop is a catastrophic number of chromosomal abnormalities. The body recognizes that if the egg developed into a fetus and later into a baby, the baby would be extremely unhealthy, and its chances at life would be slim. Therefore, the egg is not allowed to develop, and within a relatively short period of time, the uterine lining is usually sloughed off, just like in a normal menstrual period, so that the body can prepare for another try at pregnancy.

This situation is also sometimes referred to as an “early pregnancy failure,” since “blighted” sounds rather pejorative, and “ovum” has a clinical tone. Sometimes, a blighted ovum miscarries before a woman is even aware that she is pregnant, and in other instances, the blighted ovum may be diagnosed when ultrasounds to track the progress of a pregnancy reveal a failure to develop on the part of the fetus.

In a typical blighted ovum, the placenta develops, and the levels of hormones associated with pregnancy go up. This means that a woman feels pregnant, which can make the loss of the fertilized egg traumatic. However, women should be aware that this complication of pregnancy is not at all preventable, and nothing that the mother does or doesn't do will affect the risk of having a blighted ovum.

When she receives the diagnosis of a blighted ovum, a woman can choose to allow the pregnancy to abort itself naturally. Others may opt for a medical abortion, for a variety of reasons. The primary advantage to having a medical abortion is that women can ask to have the egg tested to see which abnormalities caused the blighted ovum. Sometimes such tests can reveal potential problems which could be encountered with future pregnancies, such as the fact that one parent is the unwitting carrier of a genetic condition.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By dfoster85 — On Nov 27, 2011

@MrsWinslow - I'm so sorry. I've also been through very early miscarriage and I know how devastating it is, especially if you've been trying to get pregnant. As soon as you see that positive, you start thinking about what you're going to name the baby and whether it will look like you or your husband.

Mine was a chemical pregnancy; I had a positive pregnancy test and then got my period a few days later. They're really similar and generally have the same cause - severe genetic issues.

You don't say if this was your only pregnancy so far. It sounds like maybe it was. I went on to have two healthy babies, and I hope the same for you.

By MrsWinslow — On Nov 27, 2011

I've been through this; PCOS can cause blighted ovum even though PCOS is a hormonal condition.

My doctor told me that it's rarely a good idea to have a D&C for a blighted ovum (he said he likes to call it "anembryonic pregnancy") because it's a procedure not without risks, and your body almost always takes care of it on its own given a little time.

It only happened once to me; I got a positive pregnancy test and a week later, I started having cramps and spotting. The ultrasound showed there was no developing embryo. Within a couple of days, it was all over.

I was told that if it happened three times, then they would recommend a D&C and genetic testing. But they said that for most women, it's a one-time thing. Anyone's body can make an "oops."

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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