What is an ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy is one when the fertilized egg does not attach to the lining of the uterus, but attaches outside of the uterus somewhere along the reproductive tract. Usually it implants in one of the two fallopian tubes (called a tubal pregnancy) but sometimes it implants in the abdominal cavity, an ovary or in the cervix.
The fertilized egg in an ectopic pregnancy can’t survive. If left untreated the growing tissues could damage reproductive structures and life-threatening blood loss is also possible.
Call your OB/GYN if you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or lower abdominal or pelvic pain.
What causes an ectopic pregnancy?
Often the cause of an ectopic pregnancy is not known, though here are some possible reasons:
- A birth defect in the fallopian tube
- Scar tissue from a ruptured appendix, past infections or surgery of the female organs
- Previous ectopic pregnancies
What are the risk factors for an ectopic pregnancy?
- Maternal age of more than 35 years
- When pregnancy occurs while using an intrauterine device (IUD)
- Tubal ligation – having your tubes tied
- Surgery to untie tubes to become pregnant
- Many sexual partners
- Some infertility treatments
What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?
Possible symptoms include:
- Breast tenderness or nausea
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Mild cramping on one side of the pelvis
- No periods
- Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic area
- If the area around the ectopic pregnancy ruptures and bleeds, symptoms can get worse and include feeling faint, rectal pressure, low blood pressure, shoulder pain and/or severe, sharp pain in the lower abdomen
How is ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?
- Pelvic exam, pregnancy test and vaginal ultrasound are all used to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy.
- Checking the level of the HCG hormone may also help to diagnose
How is ectopic pregnancy treated?
- If diagnosed before the pregnancy ruptures, then the treatment is either surgery or medication to end the pregnancy.
- Emergency medical care is required after the pregnancy ruptures because shock and rapid blood loss may develop.
Prognosis after an ectopic pregnancy?
One in three women are able to have a baby after an ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies may recur.
A successful pregnancy is more likely to happen when:
- The maternal age is less than 35
- The mother has already had other children
- There is a known and treatable reason for the first ectopic pregnancy
Can ectopic pregnancy be prevented?
Ectopic pregnancies that occur outside of the fallopian tube are often not preventable, though steps to keep the fallopian tubes from scarring can help.
- Safe sex and taking steps that can prevent infections
- Early diagnosis and treatment of all infections causes by sexual interactions – sexually transmitted infections