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Anembryonic pregnancy

Dr Amir Rezaee and Dr Frank Gaillard et al.

An anembryonic pregnancy (sometimes termed a blighted ovum, although this term is falling out of favour) is a gestational sac which develops without an embryo. Some authors suggest the term blighted ovum should be avoided as histologically fetal material can be demonstrated in most cases.


In anembryonic pregnancy, a blastocyst is formed from a fertilized ovum but the fetal pole/embryo never develops. Human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG) is formed due to invasion of endometrium by the syncytiotrophoblast, and as a result there is a positive pregnancy test and clinical signs of pregnancy are present. 

Clinical presentation

The patient may be asymptomatic, presenting for an early pregnancy ultrasound. Alternatively, she may present with vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy. Due to falling hCG levels, the clinical signs of pregnancy tend to subside.

Radiographic features


An anembryonic pregnancy may be diagnosed when there is no fetal pole identified on endovaginal scanning 4, and:

  • the size of the gestational sac is such that a fetal pole should be seen: MSD ≥25 mm on TVS (by RCOG criteria)


  • there is little or no growth of the gestational sac between interval scans
    • normally the MSD should increase by 1 mm per day
    • if the MSD is too small to determine the status of the fetus on the initial ultrasound, a follow up scan in 10-14 days should differentiate early pregnancy from a failed pregnancy (see: pregnancy of uncertain viability)
Other ancillary features include

Differential diagnosis

Conditions that cause an empty gestational sac include:

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