Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms, Causes & TreatmentKatrina Wharton | 8, December 2013
Ectopic pregnancy, also known as tubal pregnancy, is not a rare occurrence. According to the March of Dimes, up to 1 in 50 pregnancies are ectopic. The word "ectopic" literally means "out of place," and that gives you insight into what happened when you have an ectopic pregnancy.
In a normal healthy pregnancy, a fertilized egg makes its way through the fallopian tube to the uterus where it attaches to the uterine wall and begins growing. However, sometimes the fertilized egg gets stalled and attaches where it shouldn't, usually in the fallopian tube hence the other name for the condition, tubal pregnancy.
Occasionally, the embryo will implant in the cervix, the abdominal cavity or on an ovary. No matter what location the embryo decides to attach to, if it is outside the uterus the outcome is the same. The pregnancy will end, and if not treated quickly enough, reproductive structures can be damaged putting the mother's life in jeopardy, or cause permanent infertility.
Ectopic Pregnancy Causes
The causes of ectopic pregnancy vary a great deal, and sometimes no cause can be determined. Sometimes it occurs because of a damaged, inflamed or infected fallopian tube, problems with the embryo itself, or a hormone imbalance.
Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms
The symptoms of ectopic pregnancy will show up very early in the pregnancy. The initial stages will seem like a normal pregnancy, with issues such as nausea, tender breasts, vomiting, tiredness and frequent urination. However, symptoms will begin to change. The first red flag will be spotting. Many women will think it's just their period starting and they may not even realize they are pregnant. Or a woman may believe the spotting is due to implantation bleeding. However, the bleeding will at first be light and possibly brownish in color. This will likely begin approximately a week after her first missed period.
Symptoms will increase and will include abdominal pain which will be located lower in the abdomen and will be felt primarily on one side. If a woman does not seek medical attention, the pain will greatly increase to severe levels. She will begin to feel faint, dizzy, and begin vomiting due to blood loss. She also may have pain in her shoulder due to a ruptured ectopic pregnancy that causes blood to put pressure on the diaphragm.
Who is at Risk for an Ectopic Pregnancy?
According to the publication, FAQ 155 Ectopic Pregnancy published by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or ACOG, the factors that may put women at increased risk for ectopic pregnancy include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Being Infertile
- Sexually transmitted disease or infection
- Prior surgery involving the fallopian tubes, or other reproductive or abdominal surgery
- Previous ectopic pregnancy
- Cigarette smoking
- The pregnant woman's mother exposed her to the drug DES while she was in utero
- Increased age
If you experience symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, seek medical attention. If you are bleeding, feel faint, have severe abdominal pain, seek emergency treatment immediately. Your doctor will first determine if you are indeed pregnant and check your hormone levels, as hcG levels are lower in ectopic pregnancies. You will receive a pelvic exam and will most likely have a vaginal ultrasound.
Most ectopic pregnancies are diagnosed in the first 8 weeks, before the fallopian tube has ruptured. If the tube hasn't ruptured, medication may be used to treat the condition. The medication, methotrexate, which is typically administered through an injection, will cause the pregnancy to stop growing. This way the fallopian tube can be saved. The pregnancy will be absorbed by the body.
Sometimes an ectopic pregnancy requires surgery and if possible the embryo will be removed leaving the fallopian tube intact by making a tiny incision in the tube. However, if too much damage has been done or the tube has ruptured, some or all of the tube will need to be removed.
Follow up treatment will include blood tests to ensure the hcG levels continue to fall back to normal levels. According to the March of Dimes, most women who have had an ectopic pregnancy, will go on to have healthy pregnancies, placing the success rate between 50 and 80 percent.
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