Ectopic Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

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Ectopic pregnancy is a rare and dangerous condition that occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus, but it is treatable. Unlike normal pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus, an ectopic or tubal pregnancy occurs when an egg implants itself and grows outside of the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube or sometimes the ovary. It occurs in roughly two out of every 100 pregnancies, as stated by Planned Parenthood. Without proper treatment, the growing embryo can cause the fallopian tube to rupture, resulting in pain, bleeding, infection and possibly even death.

Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy
While an ectopic pregnancy may show the same positive result on a pregnancy test and produce the normal early signs of pregnancy like a missed period, breast tenderness, nausea and tiredness, an ectopic pregnancy will eventually show symptoms. Some warning signs include sharp pain in the abdomen or pelvic region especially on one side, shoulder pain, light or heavy vaginal bleeding, gastrointestinal upset, dizziness and fainting. It's important to contact a doctor if you experience pain for more than a few minutes or experience vaginal bleeding at all during your pregnancy. Only a doctor can diagnose and treat an ectopic pregnancy.

Ectopic Pregnancy Treatment
To diagnose an ectopic pregnancy, a doctor or nurse will perform an ultrasound, blood test, pelvic exam or a combination of these. In some cases, a culdocentesis may need to be performed to check for the presence of blood from a ruptured fallopian tube. If it is determined that the pregnancy is ectopic, the treatment will be either medication or surgery, depending on the specific condition. An ectopic pregnancy is never viable, so methotrexate might be given to end the pregnancy and allow the body to absorb the egg and prevent any damage to the fallopian tube. If the tube is damaged or ruptured, laparoscopic surgery is commonly used to remove the pregnancy and any damaged parts of the fallopian tube. Following the treatment, patients need to have their hCG levels monitored regularly to ensure the treatment was successful.

Risk Factors for Ectopic Pregnancy
While the cause of ectopic pregnancy can't always be determined, there are some risk factors associated with this condition:

  • Maternal age of 35 or older
  • Smoker
  • Endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease or STDs
  • Previous pelvic or abdominal surgery
  • Several previous induced abortions
  • Conception with an intrauterine device in place or after tubal ligation
  • Certain fertility treatments
  • Previous ectopic pregnancies

It is possible to have a healthy pregnancy after ectopic pregnancy if treated soon enough. If an ectopic pregnancy hasn't damaged the fallopian tube and if none of the tube is removed, the chance of a successful future pregnancy is about 60 percent, as reported by the American Pregnancy Association. If one of the tubes has been removed, it's still possible to get pregnant, but it will be more difficult. Dealing with an ectopic pregnancy can be difficult and stressful, and for some women it's the same emotionally as a miscarriage. Resources such as support groups and therapy can help women cope with any emotional distress during this time.