Pregnancy and Miscarriage: What is a Blighted Ovum?

Pregnancy and Miscarriage: What is a Blighted Ovum?


When a woman is pregnant, fears of miscarriage are common. A blighted ovum, also called an anembryonic pregnancy, is a type of miscarriage. If you have been diagnosed with a blighted ovum, you may feel confused. You feel pregnant, you have the symptoms and you might be showing. Learn what a blighted ovum is and why it happens.

What is a Blighted Ovum?

When a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall, the embryo normally begins developing. However, with a blighted ovum the embryo does not develop, even though the cells do.

Anembryonic pregnancies occur in the first trimester. Many times it will happen before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Why Does It Happen?

While the medical community doesn’t know for sure, it is believed that some abnormality or defect causes a blighted ovum. The most popular theory is that the body has a natural miscarriage due to a high level of chromosome abnormalities.


Because a blighted ovum happens very early in pregnancy, most women have no idea they have miscarried or that they were even pregnant. Those that knew they were expecting may be surprised with the diagnosis because their hCG levels increase. During a routine exam, the doctor will not hear a heartbeat, but might assume that is because it is too early. Physical symptoms of a possible blighted ovum include:

  • Spotting or minor vaginal bleeding

  • Cramping

How is a Blighted Ovum Diagnosed?

An ultrasound is needed to diagnose a blighted ovum. The ultrasound will show empty gestational sac or empty womb. Medical assistants who have not received extensive training in reading ultrasounds may not recognize a blighted ovum and tell the woman she was never pregnant. This often happens in the emergency room. This can be particularly confusing for someone, especially if they have been seeing an OB/GYN. In this case, insist on speaking to a physician or make an appointment with your own OB/GYN.


Most of the time no treatment is needed. The body will eliminate the tissue on its own. However, some women’s bodies do not go through the miscarriage process naturally. This is when a D&C (dilation and curettage) is performed.

A D&C is an outpatient procedure that involves dilating the cervix so the tissue can be either suctioned or scraped out.

Many people have not heard the term “blighted ovum” and you might be confused. This is a loss and you need to allow yourself to go through the grieving process. There are counselors who can help you understand and cope with this type of miscarriage.

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