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Blighted Ovum: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

October 10, 2023

Sadly, pregnancy can sometimes go wrong. There can be an ectopic pregnancy, a birth trauma, the death of a baby, or a condition called a blighted ovum that leads to miscarriage in the first trimester. Here, you will learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of blighted ovum.

Book an online appointment with Dr. Renu Kapur for Pregnancy & Gynecology related issues

What is a Blighted Ovum?

A blighted ovum is a condition in which the fertilized egg goes through the process of implantation in the uterus but is unable to become an embryo. The embryonic sac and the placenta get formed but are empty, and there is no baby growing inside them. This pregnancy complication is also called an anembryonic pregnancy or gestational pregnancy. Though no embryo is present, the placenta still creates human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) which is a hormone that is produced to support pregnancy. When doing a urine and blood test, labs look for this hormone, so when tested, it gives a positive pregnancy result even though it is not proceeding further. There can be pregnancy-related signs and symptoms like nausea and sore breasts too. However, despite all this, a blighted ovum causes miscarriage, and it does not turn into a viable fetus.

Blighted Ovum Symptoms

A blighted ovum, in some cases, ends before you know you are pregnant. When that is the case, you may end up thinking it is a heavy menstrual cycle. But for some, it may progress and have symptoms that are similar to pregnancy, like:

  • A missed period
  • Sore breasts
  • A pregnancy test is positive

When the pregnancy ends, there are symptoms of miscarriage, like:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Breast soreness goes away

Since the pregnancy tests look for hCG levels, a blighted ovum can result in positive results before passing the tissues.

What are the Causes of Blighted Ovum?

The exact causes of this condition are not known, but what is known is that it has nothing to do with what you didn't or did before or during the pregnancy. It is believed to be caused by abnormalities in the chromosomes that happen in the fertilized egg. That can be due to poor-quality sperm, eggs, or genetics. If you have a blighted ovum repeatedly, then it can be a chromosome abnormality, and you should get a chromosomal analysis done on the embryos. If you are wondering how long can you carry a blighted ovum, It will lead to a miscarriage at seven to twelve weeks of pregnancy.

There is also a higher risk of it if your partner is related to you biologically. Since in some cases, a blighted ovum can happen quite early, it can go unrecognized. However, many women who have this condition can go on and have healthier pregnancies in the future. It is also not clear if it occurs in first-time pregnancies or not. How common is a blighted ovum? It is not rare, but it is the leading cause of miscarriages and quite common. The good news is that women who have blighted ovums can have successful pregnancies and deliver healthy babies.

How is Blighted Ovum Diagnosed?

An ultrasound is one of the most popular methods of diagnosing a blighted ovum. It usually occurs in the first trimester, between seven and nine weeks of pregnancy. In normal pregnancy, an embryo should be formed during this period of pregnancy. However, when a woman suffers from a blighted ovum, the ultrasound shows an empty gestational sac that appears like a bubble.

Women are mostly unaware that they have a blighted ovum, as during a blighted ovum, hcg levels are high since the body thinks that you are pregnant. That is the reason the symptoms of pregnancy are seen. If you have signs of miscarriage or heavy bleeding, then an ultrasound is used to look at the uterus to diagnose this condition.

A few healthcare providers gather blood samples to check HCG levels in the blighted ovum as it reaches a peak between eight and ten weeks. How high can HCG get with a blighted ovum? If the level is more than 15,000 ml/Ul and there is no visible sac as it does not increase as quickly as it does in normal pregnancy, it can indicate a complication. The provider will then test the hCG levels over several days to see how the hCG is rising. This is also an effective tool instead of an ultrasound.

Treatment of Blighted Ovum

For some women, there is no treatment required as the body releases the embryo through the vagina, which is called miscarriage. If the body does not do that, then there are other choices to remove it from the uterus. The possible options are:

  • Natural miscarriage: It is a wait-and-watch to allow the body to remove the pregnancy tissues. It can take a few days or weeks and you will have vaginal bleeding, cramping and pain as the miscarriage begins.
  • D&C (Dilation and Curettage): It is a surgical option to take out the uterus contents. The surgeon will open or dilate the cervix and use suction to take out the pregnancy tissues.
  • Medication-induced miscarriage: A medicine is given to induce the body to miscarry. This reduces the waiting time for a miscarriage to happen on its own. The cramping, bleeding, and pain may start within 30 minutes to many hours after taking medication.

A follow-up is recommended in cases of D&C where an ultrasound is done to check if the uterus is empty. The doctor will also check for infections and ensure there are no further complications.


1. What is the main cause of a blighted ovum?

The cause of the blighted ovum is not known. However, it is said that chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg can cause it. The risk factors include poor quality sperm, eggs, or even genetics, which play a role in this complication.

2. What are the risk factors for a blighted ovum?

The risk factors for blighted ovum are abnormal cell division, poor-quality eggs or sperm, and marrying a blood relative.

3. Does a blighted ovum affect the next pregnancy?

No. If you have had a blighted ovum in one pregnancy, it does not affect the chances of having a successful pregnancy or childbirth in the subsequent ones.

4. Is a Blighted ovum common?

Yes. Unfortunately, these are not rare complications and are one of the main causes of miscarriages. It is one of the most common reasons for miscarriage and is associated with chromosomal abnormalities.

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