You may have heard of an ectopic pregnancy, but many people haven’t heard of a molar pregnancy – here’s everything you need to know about what a molar pregnancy is, what the symptoms are and what to do about it.
First thing: molar pregnancies are rare. Only 1 out of 1,500 pregnancies in the United States is a molar pregnancy. Molar pregnancies are more likely to occur in women over 35 or under 20 years of age, women who have had two or more miscarriages, women who have previously had a molar pregnancy and women of Southeast Asian descent.
What is a molar pregnancy?
After the egg is fertilized, the paternal chromosomes deliver more chromosomes than usual – 69 instead of 46. With the incorrect amount of genetic material present, instead of a healthy embryo, a mass of tissue called a mole develops.
Sometimes women have some healthy placenta and part of a healthy embryo, but it’s not complete. This is called a partial molar pregnancy. A full molar pregnancy one in which a non-cancerous tumor develops without placenta.
Molar Pregnancy Symptoms
A molar pregnancy initially gives a woman many of the same symptoms of a regular pregnancy. There will be a positive pregnancy test, but within the first trimester, patients with molar pregnancies begin to experience dark brown to bright red vaginal bleeding, which later could develop into severe nausea and vomiting.
Other symptoms of a molar pregnancy include grape-like cysts passed through the vagina, rapid uterine growth – beyond the expected scale – high blood pressure, early pre-eclampsia, anemia and hyperthyroidism.
Women who bleed early in their pregnancy should call their health practitioner right away. Although bleeding by no means signifies that it has to be a molar pregnancy, it’s an important symptom that shouldn’t go unchecked.
Doctors can perform ultrasounds and check levels of HCG (a hormone present in pregnancy). In a molar pregnancy, the ultrasound will show cysts in the uterus that are generally bunched together like grapes and HCG levels will be abnormally high.
Molar Pregnancy Treatment
Unfortunately it is not possible for molar pregnancies to become viable pregnancies – the molar tissue will need to be removed. Removal generally occurs via a dilation and curettage (D & C).
Occasionally after removal women still register positive on pregnancy tests or the molar tissue may remain and continue to grow. This is called gestational trophoblastic disease, or GTD.
If the GTD is persistent, women may need chemotherapy or doctors may elect to remove the uterus. Occasionally GTD spreads to other organs. If it does, cancer drugs can treat the disease.
A molar pregnancy can be a traumatic experience. Women who experience molar pregnancies need time to grieve and seek out friends and family for support.
Doctors recommend waiting six months to a year before trying to conceive again after a molar pregnancy.
Upon subsequent pregnancies, doctors will conduct early ultrasounds to check on for healthy development.
The bottom line is that molar pregnancies are quite rare and with treatment, they are curable. If you or someone you know has one, know that it’s ok to seek out a support group or counseling – this can be a very difficult, life-changing event but there are people there to help.