Pregnancy loss or period? How to tell

According to the charity Tommy’s, 85% of pregnancy losses occur in the first trimester. Doctors call these early losses chemical pregnancies. A chemical pregnancy is no different from any other miscarriage, except that it happens before a doctor detects the pregnancy.

In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between pregnancy loss and a period.

How are they similar?

An early pregnancy loss can cause symptoms that are similar to symptoms of a period.

These include:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • abdominal pain
  • passing blood clots or tissue
How are they different?

The bleeding patterns of a period and an early miscarriage can be similar.

Signs that a person may be experiencing a miscarriage as opposed to a pregnancy include:

  • Lower abdominal cramping: This can vary in severity. It can feel like a period or a strong contraction similar to those during labor. A person can also experience pain in the lower back and pelvis.
  • Passing fluid: This does not typically occur during a period.
  • Passing pregnancy tissue or blood clots: A person may also pass clots that look grey or white.
  • Bleeding: Bleeding from a miscarriage can begin quite suddenly. It should settle down in a few days, but it can take up to 2 weeks. It can also be heavier than a period.

However, every period is different. Even if a person has very heavy bleeding or gets their period later than usual, it may not mean that they were pregnant.

A pregnancy test may help indicate that a woman was previously pregnant.

However, pregnancy hormone levels are low during early pregnancy, and they may drop right before a miscarriage. So, by the time bleeding begins, it may be too late to test.

Even before bleeding starts, it is possible to get a negative test and still be pregnant if pregnancy hormones are too low or the test is not sensitive enough.

If a person is not pregnant, but their periods are not typical for them, they might be experiencing endometriosis.

The symptoms of endometriosis can be similar to the ones above.

In the case of endometriosis, menstrual cramps may be painful, with the pain getting worse over time. Similarly to an early pregnancy loss, the pain can occur in the lower back and pelvis. Also, endometriosis can cause spotting and bleeding in between a person’s period.

How to recognize a chemical pregnancy

According to 2013 research, a chemical pregnancy, or early pregnancy loss, occurs when only a chemical means, such as a pregnancy test, can diagnose the gestation.

Some strategies that can help with identifying a chemical pregnancy include:

  • Taking a pregnancy test: Bleeding after a positive test could be a pregnancy loss, though bleeding during early pregnancy is not uncommon. Bleeding can occur 1–2 weeks after fertilization. If a subsequent test is negative or shows a much fainter line, it may indicate a chemical pregnancy.
  • Measuring cycle length: If a person’s period comes late, this might mean they were pregnant, especially if they had a positive pregnancy test prior to the bleeding.
  • Pregnancy blood test: If a blood test confirms a person is pregnant, then another blood test could show that they are experiencing a chemical pregnancy. If there are decreasing levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in the blood, it can indicate an early pregnancy loss.
Weekly signs

A person may experience different signs, depending on when the pregnancy loss occurs.

6 weeks

At this time, a person may experience blood clots. Sometimes, they may notice a small fluid filled sac that may contain the placenta.

8 weeks

The tissue that a person passes may be dark red and shiny.

10 weeks

The clots that a woman passes are dark red and have a jelly-like consistency. The sac may be in one of these clots.

12–16 weeks

At this point, a woman may notice that they are passing fluid through the vagina. Bleeding and clots may follow.

16–20 weeks

At this stage, it becomes a late miscarriage. The blood clots may be large and shiny.

A late miscarriage may feel painful, and a person may need to go to the hospital.

Menstrual cycle and pregnancy loss

Women may notice subtle differences in their usual menstrual signs and symptoms that may indicate a pregnancy loss.

If in doubt, they should speak to a doctor or other healthcare professional for further advice. Acting quickly will enable them to receive the treatment that they may need.

If a person has experienced a pregnancy loss, their period can begin again after 4–6 weeks, and they may ovulate after 2 weeks.

The vaginal mucus or discharge can be slippery and clear a few days before ovulation. A person may also notice their basal temperature, or temperature when they wake up, rises.

If a person sees these changes at different times in their usual cycle, it may indicate a pregnancy loss.

However, different factors can alter a person’s menstrual cycle, so these signs are not definitive proof of pregnancy loss.

Again, it is necessary to consult a doctor to find out what may or may not be occurring and receive any necessary treatment.


Complications do not typically occur from an early pregnancy loss.

If a woman’s blood type is Rh-negative, complications may occur in future pregnancies if the fetus is Rh-positive.

A woman may receive an Rh immunoglobulin shot to prevent complications in future pregnancies.

When to see a doctor

It can be challenging for a doctor to give a definitive diagnosis of early pregnancy loss. To help them, they may use blood tests, visualization, and pathology.

Women do not typically need medical treatment for most early pregnancy loss.

However, they should see a doctor if they experience any bleeding following a positive pregnancy test. Similarly, if they have very heavy or painful bleeding that does not stop on its own

It is also advisable to see a doctor or fertility specialist if:

  • A woman has multiple chemical pregnancies or pregnancy losses.
  • A couple tries longer than 12 months to get pregnant and is unable to get and stay pregnant.

Likewise, a person should see a doctor if they are experiencing symptoms of endometriosis, including:

  • pain during or after sex
  • intestinal pain
  • painful bowel movements
  • digestive problems, such as diarrhea, bloating, constipation, and nausea during periods

Chemical pregnancies do not typically require treatment. After experiencing a pregnancy loss, some pregnancy tissue can remain in the uterus. This typically passes by itself after 2 weeks.

If the pregnancy tissue does not pass by itself, there are a few treatment options:

  • A person can take a pill at home or in a doctor’s office to pass the pregnancy.
  • A person can undergo surgery to remove the pregnancy, or to remove tissue that the body did not get rid of. Doctors call this a dilation and curettage, or D&C.

If a person has experienced an early pregnancy loss, they should avoid sexual activity for 1–2 weeks.

A person should seek medical attention if they experience:

  • fever
  • severe pain
  • chills
  • severe heavy bleeding


It can be difficult to distinguish between an early pregnancy loss and a period.

Although the symptoms can be similar, a person may be experiencing a pregnancy loss if their bleeding is heavier than usual, appears suddenly, or they are experiencing abnormal abdominal cramping.

An early pregnancy loss does not typically cause complications, but a person should see a doctor if they suspect they have experienced a pregnancy loss.

-Medical News