Blighted ovum (anembryonic pregnancy)

Blighted ovum and anembryonic pregnancy are both words used to describe a particular type of early miscarriage. You might also hear it called an early embryonic loss or early embryonic demise.

What is a blighted ovum?

A blighted ovum occurs when the cells of a baby stop developing early on, and the tiny embryo is reabsorbed. However, the pregnancy sac, where the baby should develop, continues to grow.

What causes a blighted ovum?

Doctors think that a blighted ovum pregnancy happens because of an issue with the early development of the baby – for example, a chromosome error. It is extremely unlikely to be caused by anything you or your partner did or didn’t do.

How is it diagnosed?

A blighted ovum is diagnosed by ultrasound scan. The scan shows a pregnancy sac, which doesn’t have a developing baby inside. This is sometimes described as showing ‘no fetal pole’.

This kind of miscarriage is usually discovered between the 8th and 13th week of pregnancy, sometimes at a routine early scan.

In this kind of miscarriage, the pregnancy hormone levels in your body can stay high for some time after the baby has died, so pregnancy tests can be positive and you may still experience pregnancy symptoms such as sore breasts, nausea and tiredness. Because of this, you may have no idea that anything is wrong, and being diagnosed can come as a real shock.

How is it treated?

It can take time for the pregnancy hormones to drop and for the physical process of miscarriage to happen naturally.  Some women choose this option. But the process can be speeded up, or ‘managed’ by medical treatment (drugs) or surgery (an operation). If you choose to have one of these treatments, you may be asked to wait for a week or more for a second scan to make sure the pregnancy has ended before treatment begins.

Unless you need emergency treatment, you should usually be able to choose what treatment to have and be given information to help you decide between them. However, your medical history may make some options unsuitable or your hospital may not offer all options.

During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in particular, you are much less likely to be offered surgery, so you will most likely have to decide between natural (expectant) or medical management of miscarriage at home rather than being treated in hospital.  We provide more detailed information here.

Will it happen again?

It is possible, but unlikely. A blighted ovum is a chance event and most women go on to have a healthy pregnancy.

Helping you through

Whether it happens early or late in pregnancy, any experience of miscarriage can be very distressing. You may find it helpful to talk to one of our helpline team:

You might also want to talk with others who have been through something similar: