Sexually active women may be at risk of developing an ectopic pregnancy. Learn more about this condition here.
In this article:
- What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
- What Are the Symptoms?
- Who Is at Risk of Having an Ectopic Pregnancy?
- Why Do Ectopic Pregnancies Happen?
- Where Should You Go to Get Help?
- When Can You Get a Diagnosis?
- How Do You Treat an Ectopic Pregnancy?
Everything You Need to Know About an Ectopic Pregnancy
What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
In a normal pregnancy, the fertilized egg will travel through the fallopian tube and attach itself to the uterine lining. An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy taking place outside of your uterus. This happens when the fertilized egg attaches itself to other parts of the reproductive system.
In most cases, the fertilized egg will attach itself to the fallopian tube. This is why some people refer to an ectopic pregnancy as a tubal pregnancy. In very rare cases, the fertilized egg will attach itself in the ovary, cervical canal, or the pelvic cavities.
What Are the Symptoms?
In the beginning, an ectopic pregnancy will seem like a normal pregnancy. Women are likely to experience early pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue, tender breasts, headaches, and a missed period. An ectopic pregnancy will begin to differentiate itself from these symptoms.
These are the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy:
- Spotting or vaginal bleeding
- Sharp or severe lower abdominal pain or cramps
- Isolated pain in one side of the stomach
- Feeling weak, dizzy, or faint
- Shoulder or neck pain
- Rectum pain
Not all women will experience all these symptoms. Just like a traditional pregnancy, it will vary from woman to woman. Usually, they will only exhibit two or three of the symptoms listed above.
Please contact your doctor right away if you are experiencing any of these ectopic pregnancy symptoms.
Who Is at Risk of Having an Ectopic Pregnancy?
One in fifty pregnancies ends up as an ectopic pregnancy. It is difficult to predict an ectopic pregnancy, but women are more at risk to have an ectopic pregnancy if they:
- have a pelvic inflammatory disease
- had a sexually transmitted disease
- have endometriosis
- had an ectopic pregnancy in the past
- had pelvic or abdominal surgery
- are 35 years old or older
- took fertility drugs or have undergone fertility treatments
- had multiple induced abortions
- smoke cigarettes
Endometriosis Definition: A painful disorder where the tissue lining the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus instead. Read more about it here.
In rare cases, women can also have an ectopic pregnancy if they conceived under certain conditions. A woman who becomes pregnant after tubal ligation is at risk. Tubal ligation is a type of surgery where the fallopian tubes are tied to prevent pregnancy.
Also, a woman who becomes pregnant while using an intrauterine device (IUD) is at risk. An IUD is a contraceptive device that is inserted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy.
Why Do Ectopic Pregnancies Happen?
It can be difficult to figure out the exact cause of an ectopic pregnancy. Here are some possible causes:
- inflammation or infection of the fallopian tube
- scar tissues or adhesions in the fallopian tube as a result of a surgical procedure or an infection
- abnormally shaped fallopian tubes as a result of abnormal growths or a birth defect
All of these causes may lead to a blockage that stops the fertilized egg from traveling to the uterus. It’s harder to pinpoint the cause of ectopic pregnancies when it happens in the ovary, cervical canal, or the pelvic cavities.
Where Should You Go to Get Help?
The sooner you get treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, the better off you will be. If you are experiencing light spotting or some abdominal pain, inform your doctor of your symptoms immediately.
Your doctor should be able to run tests to confirm or rule out an ectopic pregnancy. Seek emergency medical care right away if you are experiencing severe abdominal pain (with or without vaginal bleeding), heavy vaginal bleeding, or debilitating lightheadedness.
When Can You Get a Diagnosis?
Doctors can confirm an ectopic pregnancy at about 5-6 weeks after conception. When a patient shows signs of ectopic pregnancy, they usually perform the following tests and procedures:
- Pelvic exam – A doctor will look for masses or areas that are painful or tender.
- Pregnancy test – confirms the pregnancy using blood or urine samples.
- Transvaginal ultrasound – A doctor will look for the fertilized egg in the uterus, ovaries, or the fallopian tubes.
- Abdominal ultrasound – A doctor will determine if there is any internal bleeding. This is also done to confirm the pregnancy.
- Blood test – A complete blood count will show the patient’s blood type and level of blood loss.
How Do You Treat an Ectopic Pregnancy?
It’s important to start the treatment as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed. Delaying the treatment can lead to a rupture. Unfortunately, a fertilized egg won’t be able to grow normally outside of the uterus. All of the treatment options will terminate the pregnancy.
There are three standard treatment options: medication, laparoscopic surgery, and emergency surgery.
- Doctors can use medication to treat ectopic pregnancies if the pregnancy is diagnosed early on and the symptoms are not severe. They inject methotrexate to stop the fertilized egg from developing further and help dissolve it.
- Laparoscopic surgery is a surgical procedure that uses a thin tube which also contains a camera. The doctor makes a small incision in the abdomen or near the belly button. After making the incision, the doctor removes the egg and repairs the fallopian tube.
- In cases of heavy internal bleeding because of a ruptured fallopian tube, doctors may have to resort to emergency surgery. The doctor will make an incision through the abdomen to repair or remove the fallopian tube.
Methotrexate Definition: Methotrexate is used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, severe psoriasis, and specific types of cancer. Learn more about this treatment here.
Ultimately, the course of treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms and how far along the pregnancy is.
Watch this video on the top 10 signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy from Glorious Lifestyle:
If a woman has had an ectopic pregnancy, there’s approximately a 10% chance it may happen again. Moving forward, it can be helpful to understand why the previous ectopic pregnancy occurred and how it was resolved.
It’s best to discuss your history and options with your doctor. An ectopic pregnancy may seem scary, but many women who have had them can go on to have healthy, full-term babies.
Are you worried about having an ectopic pregnancy? Or have you had an ectopic pregnancy before? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section below.
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