What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy happens when a fertilized egg implants and starts growing outside the main cavity of the uterus. Pregnancy begins with a fertilized egg. Normally, the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus.
Most often, an ectopic pregnancy occurs in a fallopian tube, which carries eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. This type of ectopic pregnancy is called a tubal pregnancy. Sometimes, an ectopic pregnancy occurs in other areas of the body, such as the ovary, abdominal cavity, or the lower part of the uterus (cervix), which connects to the vagina. Normally a fertilized egg moves down a fallopian tube and into the uterus. But the egg may get stuck in the tube if blocked. This might be from an infection or scar tissue.
An ectopic pregnancy can’t proceed normally. The fertilized egg can’t survive, and the growing tissue may cause life-threatening vaginal bleeding if left untreated. An ectopic pregnancy is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition. 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 is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Ectopic Pregnancy Causes
Women with abnormally-shaped or scarred fallopian tubes are at a higher 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 these risk factors:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Sexually transmitted diseases (such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, etc.)
- Some research suggests that women who have in vitro fertilization (IVF) or similar fertility treatments are more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy. Infertility itself may also raise your risk.
- Pelvic surgery
- Prior fallopian tubal surgery (tubal ligation, such as having your tubes tied) Surgery to correct a closed or damaged fallopian tube can increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
- Previous ectopic pregnancy
- Choice of birth control methods. The chance of getting pregnant while using an intrauterine device (IUD) is rare. However, if you do get pregnant with an IUD in place, it’s more likely to be ectopic.
Research also suggests that the risk of ectopic pregnancy may be increased in older women, women with a habit of cigarette smoking, and women who were exposed to the drug DES while in the womb.
Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms
Some women with an ectopic pregnancy have the usual signs or symptoms of early pregnancy — a missed menstrual period, breast tenderness, and nausea. You may not notice any symptoms of ectopic pregnancy early on.
The pregnancy test will be positive. Still, an ectopic pregnancy can’t continue as normal. Signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy increase as the fertilized egg grows in the improper place.
Light vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain are usually the first symptoms; others include:
Sharp, acute abdominal pain/back pain in one or both sides
Some women report persistent abdominal pain/back pain, while others say that it comes and goes.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Either light spotting or heavy vaginal 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 health care 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 have a healthy pregnancy 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 complications.
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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