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Blighted Ovum

Blighted Ovum

Alternate Names

  • anembryonic pregnancy
  • preclinical abortion

Definition

A blighted ovum refers to a miscarriage that occurs in the first few weeks of pregnancy.

What is going on in the body?

It is estimated that only about two-thirds of female eggs that are fertilized result in detectable pregnancies. The other one-third of fertilized eggs spontaneously abort or die. Another name for a female egg is an ovum. A blighted ovum usually occurs before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

A blighted ovum is abnormal. Many fertilized eggs have severe genetic defects and therefore die because they cannot develop properly. This condition seems to occur more often in older women.

The most serious result of this condition is usually the mental distress caused by discovery that the woman is or was pregnant. Repeated early egg deaths may indicate a genetic or physical disorder in the parents. Rarely, a specific problem such as low hormone levels may be causing multiple early egg deaths.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

In most cases, nothing can be done to prevent this condition. In the case of repeated early egg deaths, both partners may want to get genetic counseling and genetic testing.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Because women usually don't know they are pregnant at the very early stage of pregnancy, this condition often goes undiagnosed. Menstrual periods usually return to normal quickly. In some cases, the diagnosis is made because a pregnancy test is positive and the woman misses her period. A special x-ray test at this point will usually show either an empty womb or an empty birth sac.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

The most important long-term effects are related to emotional distress, which can build up considerably if blighted ovum events occur more than once.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

There are no risks to others, as this condition is not contagious. Those women with repeated early egg deaths might have a genetic problem - one that could be manifested in a liveborn child if a successful pregnancy occurs.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Rarely, a treatable condition is found to be the cause of the blighted ovum. For example, a low hormone level may rarely cause early egg death. In these cases, hormone treatments with hormones such as progesterone may pervent a recurrence.
If repeated early egg deaths occur, artificial fertilization may be effective in producing pregnancy. Genetic testing may also be advised to rule out genetic problems. While these are not treatable, they may indicate the need for a sperm or egg donor in order to have children.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Hormones can cause side effects, such as headaches, mood swings, and others. Artificial fertilization is expensive and does not always work. The risk of multiple births is often higher.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

In most women, the diagnosis is never made and treatment is never needed. Most women who have a blighted ovum go on to have a healthy child the next time they get pregnant.
If treatment occurs and is successful, a regular pregnancy occurs. Adoption is another option for many couples.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Most cases require no monitoring unless the woman or couple desires it. The blighted ovum will eventually pass out through the vagina on its own if no treatment to clean the uterus is performed.

Sources

Williams Obstetrics, 1997, Cunningham et al.

Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1999, Scott et al.

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