An ectopic pregnancy is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition in which a fertilized egg implants and begins growing somewhere outside the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy is not a viable pregnancy and must be terminated with surgery.
The greatest danger posed by an ectopic pregnancy is the growth of the zygote 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.
Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms
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.
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.
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 and a physical exam, including taking your blood pressure. A blood test to check for pregnancy hormones and an ultrasound can usually confirm the diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic Pregnancy Treatment
Pre-rupture ectopic pregnancy treatment
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.
Post-rupture ectopic pregnancy treatment
If the fallopian tube has ruptured, the only treatment option is surgery through a large 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 with your gynecologist about your plans and risks for complication.
If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of, or suffering from Ectopic Pregnancy, or have questions about it, please see your doctor.
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