An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the wall of the Fallopian tube instead of implanting in the uterus. If the fetus continues to grow in the Fallopian tube, it can cause irreversible damage to the tube and/or cause heavy bleeding in the pregnant woman.
Because of the serious complications that can arise with an ectopic pregnancy, any woman who is trying to conceive should be aware of the causes and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy so that she can seek help immediately if she thinks she might be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.
Below is a list of 10 things you should know about ectopic pregnancy.
How common is ectopic pregnancy?
Ectopic pregnancies are relatively uncommon. Only about 1 in 50 pregnancies are ectopic.
What are the risk factors for ectopic pregnancy?
- Because an ectopic pregnancy can occur if there is inflammation or scar tissue in the Fallopian tubes, a woman is at increased risk for an ectopic pregnancy if she has pelvic inflammatory disease and/or endometriosis. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is most often caused by the presence of a sexually transmitted disease (although “normal” bacteria can sometimes cause PID), such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, and can cause inflammation in the Fallopian tubes. Endometriosis can cause scar tissue in or around the Fallopian tubes. When the Fallopian tubes are damaged for any reason, a fertilized egg might have trouble passing through, causing it to attach to the wall of the tube before it’s able to reach the uterus.
- Women who smoke are more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy. Women who have had surgery on their Fallopian tubes (for example, an unsuccessful tubal ligation or a tubal ligation reversal), are taking fertility drugs, or are undergoing in vitro fertilization have an increased risk for ectopic pregnancy. Also, some women are born with misshapen Fallopian tubes, which may place them at higher risk for ectopic pregnancy.
- If you have an intrauterine device (IUD) in place at the time of conception, you have a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancy and hcg
An ectopic pregnancy will produce the pregnancy hormone hcg, so you will get a positive on a pregnancy test. A woman experiencing an ectopic pregnancy will most often experience the same early signs of pregnancy that occur with a “normal” pregnancy. But, unfortunately, an ectopic pregnancy cannot result in the birth of a healthy baby, and will always end prematurely.
When will I know if I have an ectopic pregnancy?
In most cases, an ectopic pregnancy will be discovered by the 8th week of pregnancy.
An ectopic pregnancy hurts
- An ectopic pregnancy causes sharp pelvic and/or stomach pain, which becomes more intense with strenuous movement. Other symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are vaginal bleeding, and feeling dizzy, weak or nauseous. If you suspect that you are pregnant and are suffering from these symptoms, please see your health care provider immediately. It is important to know that the complications associated with ectopic pregnancy are severe and require medical attention.
- To determine if you are experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, a doctor will do one or all of the following:-A blood pregnancy test to check the level of pregnancy hormone circulating in your blood. If the test reveals a low level of the pregnancy hormone (hCG), this can indicate that there is a problem with the pregnancy and will warrant further investigation.-A pelvic exam to check the size of your uterus and feel for tenderness in your pelvic region-An ultrasound to verify the location of the implanted fetus
- The recommended treatment for ectopic pregnancy depends on how far along the pregnancy has advanced and whether or not the Fallopian tube has been stretched or has ruptured. If the ectopic pregnancy is discovered very early, medication (methotrexate) can be given to end the pregnancy, and can, hopefully, save the Fallopian tube. If the pregnancy is more than a few weeks along, it is likely that a woman will have to undergo emergency surgery to remove all or part of the impacted Fallopian tube.
- Having an ectopic pregnancy doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to become pregnant again in the future. However, if your Fallopian tube is damaged as a result of the ectopic pregnancy, it can be more difficult for you to conceive and for implantation to be successful. If you have ever had an ectopic pregnancy, it will be very important that you work closely with your health care provider when you decide to try to conceive in the future.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent an ectopic pregnancy. However, by being aware of the causes of ectopic pregnancy, you will know if you are at increased risk and can watch carefully for the signs that you are experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.