What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
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 inside a Fallopian tube. This type of “pregnancy” is not viable and must be terminated immediately.
The greatest danger posed by an ectopic pregnancy is the growth of the zygote (fertilized egg). When the zygote gets too big, it will rupture the Fallopian tube, causing 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 one or more of these conditions or had one in the past, 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
Older women, smokers, and women exposed to the drug DES while in the womb may have an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancy can occur even when you’re not trying to get pregnant and can begin causing symptoms before your first late period. If you notice any of these symptoms, and pregnancy is possible, call your OB-GYN right away.
- Sudden, acute pain in one or both sides of the abdomen. Some women report persistent pain, while others 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. When blood from a ruptured tube collects underneath the diaphragm, it can put pressure on the chest and shoulders, causing pain.
Diagnosing Ectopic Pregnancy
During your appointment, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam, an ultrasound, and a blood test to check for pregnancy hormones. These three can usually confirm the diagnosis.
Ectopic Pregnancy Treatments
An ectopic pregnancy cannot continue and must be treated as a life-threatening condition. Treatment varies depending on whether or not the Fallopian tube has burst.
Drugs can be administered to 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 to stop you from getting pregnant naturally in the future. However, while many women 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 evaluate the risks for complications.