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If the pregnancy doesn't show on an ultrasound scan

Ectopic pregnancy

A pregnancy that doesn't show on an ultrasound scan is called a 'pregnancy of unknown location'.

The most common reasons for a pregnancy not appearing on the ultrasound scan are:

  • it is too soon to see the baby on the scan
  • you have had a miscarriage
  • the pregnancy is outside the womb (an ectopic pregnancy)

Your obstetrician and midwives will need to do a series of blood tests. This is to find out where your pregnancy is developing. The tests check your pregnancy hormone levels and monitor how they are changing.

They will also need to do ultrasound scans. This can take several weeks, and it can be difficult for you and your partner.

During this time you will be given advice on contacting your maternity hospital if you:

What to avoid

You can continue normal activities. As this is an upsetting time, you may need time off work. Some women prefer the distraction of work. Do what you feel able for and what feels right for you.

Most obstetricians will advise you to avoid:

  • travelling outside of the country until the location of your pregnancy is known
  • sex or strenuous exercise

Getting support

Your obstetrician, midwife and GP will understand that this is a very difficult time for you. Do not hesitate to contact your healthcare team for more help or support during this period of monitoring.

Your obstetrician will explain what is happening. They can also explain why the diagnosis is taking a longer time that you might have expected.

page last reviewed: 18/09/2018
next review due: 18/09/2021