An ectopic pregnancy is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition in which a fertilized egg implants somewhere outside the uterus. Most often, this occurs within the fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy is not a viable pregnancy and must be terminated.
The greatest danger posed by an ectopic pregnancy is the growth of the zygote (fertilized egg) causing the fallopian tube to rupture, leading to severe internal bleeding.
Ectopic Pregnancy Causes
Women with abnormally-shaped or scarred fallopian tubes are at the highest risk for an ectopic pregnancy. If you have or have had one or more of these conditions, you may want to talk to your doctor about your risk.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Sexually transmitted infections (such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, etc.)
- Pelvic surgery
- Prior fallopian tubal surgery (such as having your tubes tied)
- Prior ectopic pregnancy
Research also suggests that older women, women who smoke, and women who were exposed to the drug DES while in the womb may have an increased chance of developing an ectopic pregnancy.
Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy
An ectopic pregnancy can begin causing symptoms before you even realize you are pregnant. If you notice any of these symptoms and it’s possible that you could be pregnant, call your OB-GYN right away.
- Sudden, acute pain in one or both sides of the abdomen. Some women report persistent pain, while other say that it comes and goes.
- Abnormal bleeding. Either light spotting or heavy bleeding that occurs between periods.
- Feeling weak, dizzy, or faint. Blood loss due to internal bleeding can cause dizzy spells and fainting.
- Shoulder pain. Some women feel shoulder pain when the blood from the ruptured tube collects underneath the diaphragm, putting pressure on the chest and shoulders.
Diagnosing Ectopic Pregnancy
During your appointment, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam as well as an ultrasound and blood test to check for pregnancy hormones. These can usually confirm the diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic Pregnancy Treatment
An ectopic pregnancy cannot continue and must be treated as a life-threatening condition. Treatment for an ectopic pregnancy depends on upon whether or not the fallopian tube has burst.
Drugs can be administered that stop the division of cells and allow for re-absorption into the body. This is the ideal situation because the fallopian tubes may remain intact. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove the ectopic pregnancy. The doctor can perform the procedure laparoscopically through small incisions in the abdomen and in the fallopian tube.
If the fallopian tube has ruptured, the only treatment option is surgery through an abdominal incision to repair the tissue and stop the internal bleeding. In some cases, part or all of the fallopian tube will need to be removed.
Pregnancy after an Ectopic Pregnancy
If you still have at least one fallopian tube intact after your treatment, there is no medical reason why you shouldn’t be able to get pregnant naturally in the future. However, while many women who have recovered from an ectopic pregnancy have been able to have normal pregnancies post-surgery, there is an increased risk for fertility issues and recurring ectopic pregnancies. You may want to talk to your gynecologist about your plans and risks for complication.