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Not all miscarriages are the same - there can be chemical pregnancies, blighted ovums and others. Here are the different ways that pregnancy loss can happen.

At different stages of pregnancy, different types of miscarriage can happen. It’s important to make the differentiation because, depending on the type of miscarriage, you might get different symptoms. You may also need different treatments afterwards depending on the type of miscarriage.

Chemical pregnancy

A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage. They can happen before you know that you’re pregnant. The egg is fertilised but loss happens soon after implantation, so it’ll never have a heartbeat.

You won’t usually have signs of anything happening with a chemical pregnancy. You’ll probably bleed around the time your period is due, or at most it might be a few days late or a bit heavier than normal. Most chemical pregnancies happen because the fertilised egg has chromosomal abnormalities (Moore and Cafasso, 2016; Fertility Authority, 2018).

Blighted ovum

Blighted ovum – also known as an anembryonic pregnancy – occurs in the first trimester. Again, this often happens before you’re even aware you’re pregnant. A blighted ovum is when your fertilised egg attaches to the wall of your uterus but doesn’t develop into an embryo.

You might feel pregnant. However, the doctor performing your ultrasound will see an empty gestational sac and sadly won’t be able to pick up a heartbeat (Moore and Cafasso, 2016; Fertility Authority, 2018).

Missed miscarriage

With a missed miscarriage, the loss happens early in pregnancy but your body doesn’t pass the pregnancy tissue. You might keep getting signs of pregnancy if the placenta still releases hormones, or you might notice symptoms becoming less obvious. You might also get some discharge and cramps but lots of women have no symptoms with this type of miscarriage (Moore and Cafasso, 2016; Fertility Authority, 2018).

Threatened miscarriage

In the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, you can get a threatened miscarriage, with bleeding, lower back pain and stomach cramps. Threatened miscarriages can be terrifying but they won’t necessarily end in an actual miscarriage. In fact around half result in live babies being born. 

If you have unexplained bleeding, your doctor will perform an examination. If you have a threatened miscarriage, your cervix will stay closed. If your cervix has opened, you are, unfortunately, more likely to have a miscarriage (Moore and Cafasso, 2016; Fertility Authority, 2018).

Inevitable miscarriage

Inevitable miscarriage is where women have unexplained vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain early in their pregnancies. Compared with a threatened miscarriage, an inevitable miscarriage is where the cervix opens in addition to the bleeding and pain. The bleeding is also heavier and stomach cramps will hurt a lot more (Moore and Cafasso, 2016; Fertility Authority, 2018).  

Incomplete miscarriage

With an incomplete miscarriage, you’ll often get heavy bleeding and intense stomach pain. When you’re examined, your cervix will be open.

If you have an incomplete miscarriage, you might pass some of the pregnancy tissue. Yet an ultrasound will show some tissue left behind (Moore and Cafasso, 2016; Fertility Authority, 2018).

Complete miscarriage

A complete miscarriage is a miscarriage where all of the pregnancy tissue is gone from your womb. You will have heavy bleeding and severe stomach pain but these symptoms should subside quickly. Ultrasound can confirm complete miscarriages (Moore and Cafasso, 2016; Fertility Authority, 2018).

This page was last reviewed in April 2018.

Further information

If you need help after suffering any type of miscarriage, contact The Miscarriage Association.

Fertility Authority. (2018) There are many different types of miscarriage. Available from: [accessed 9th April 2018].

Moore K, Cafasso J. (2016) Types of miscarriage. Available from: [accessed 9th April 2018].

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