Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy: Symptoms, causes, risks, treatment, and more

Shweta Das
Pregnancy

Created by Shweta Das
Updated on Apr 01, 2022

Ectopic pregnancy Symptoms causes risks treatment and more

An ectopic pregnancy is not a normal pregnancy. In this, the fertilized egg grows outside the uterus and cannot survive for long. If left untreated, the growing tissue could cause life-threatening bleeding and other complications, thus requiring emergency medical treatment.

Here’s all you need to know about ectopic pregnancy.

What is ectopic pregnancy?

Unlike a normal pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg embeds anywhere outside the uterus. This usually occurs in the fallopian tube and is referred to as a tubal pregnancy.

An ectopic pregnancy could also occur on the ovary or elsewhere in your stomach.

While it is rare to develop an ectopic pregnancy (2 in every 100 pregnancies are ectopic), it could be fatal if not treated in time. Since fallopian tubes are not meant to hold a growing baby, they could rupture, causing serious internal bleeding, infection, and even death. Thus, medical treatment becomes necessary.

Causes of ectopic pregnancy

While what causes an ectopic pregnancy is not always known, you’re more likely to have it if you have:

  • Fallopian tubes that are inflamed or scarred because of a past infection, medical condition, or surgery

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Misshapen fallopian tubes and reproductive organs due to some medical condition

  • Genetic abnormalities

  • Birth defects in the fallopian tubes

  • Abnormally developed fertilized egg

Consult your Doctor for information specific to your condition.

Risk factors for ectopic pregnancy 

Your odds of having an ectopic pregnancy increase if you:

  • Had an ectopic pregnancy in the past

  • Had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) 

  • Have endometriosis

  • Are above 35 

  • Smoke cigarettes

  • Had a pelvic or an abdominal surgery

  • Had your tubes tied or untied 

  • Used fertility drugs

  • Had fertility treatments such as IVF

  • Were using an intrauterine device (IUD) when you got pregnant 

If you’re concerned about your chances of having an ectopic pregnancy, talk to your Doctor at the earliest.

Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy

The early symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are similar to those of a regular pregnancy, such as a missed period, nausea, and breast tenderness. However, you may not experience any of these symptoms, or even realize that you’re pregnant early on. But if you were to take a pregnancy test at this time, you would get a positive result. 

 

Eventually, as the fertilized egg starts growing outside the uterus (in the incorrect place), the symptoms become more obvious.

Early symptoms of ectopic pregnancy

Some of the early symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are:

  • Light vaginal bleeding

  • Pelvic pain

  • Upset stomach 

  • Vomiting

  • Sharp abdominal cramps

  • Pain on one side of the body

  • Weakness or dizziness

  • Pain in your neck or shoulder

  • Pain in the rectum, which could feel like a bowel movement

The symptoms you experience would depend on: 

  • Where the blood collects in your body

  • Which nerves get triggered

Emergency symptoms of ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy can cause the fallopian tube to rupture, leading to heavy abdominal bleeding. 

The emergency symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include: 

  • Severe vaginal bleeding

  • Extreme lightheadedness

  • Fainting and shock

  • Shoulder pain

  • Severe stomach pain on one side

Call your Doctor immediately or seek emergency medical care if you experience any of these ectopic pregnancy symptoms.

Complications of ectopic pregnancy

If the fertilized egg keeps growing inside the fallopian tube (tubal ectopic pregnancy), the tube would eventually burst open. If left untreated, the ruptured tube can cause severe internal bleeding that could be life-threatening.

Prevention of ectopic pregnancy 

While there are no ways to prevent an ectopic pregnancy, you could decrease your risk of getting one by doing the following:

  • Limit the number of sexual partners and use contraceptives to avoid catching sexually transmitted infections and pelvic inflammatory disease

  • Quit smoking 

Diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy 

To diagnose an ectopic pregnancy, your Doctor would need to check your uterus and fallopian tubes. 

Your Doctor could give you:

  • A pregnancy test

  • A pelvic exam

  • An ultrasound

If you want to know more about essential pregnancy tests, click here.

Treatment for ectopic pregnancy

The fertilized egg cannot live outside the uterus for too long, and could cause life-threatening complications. To avoid serious health problems due to an ectopic pregnancy, you need to seek medical treatment at the earliest. 

The following treatments are available for ectopic pregnancy: 

  • Medication: This treatment is administered if:

    • The fallopian tube is still intact 

    • The pregnancy isn’t far along

The Doctor could give a methotrexate shot to stop the cells from growing. What breaks down is absorbed by the body.

  • Surgery: 

    • Laparoscopy: This is the most common surgery performed to remove an ectopic pregnancy. If the fallopian tube is damaged, it would need to be removed as well. 

    • Laparotomy: This is an emergency surgery done In case the fallopian tube has ruptured and there is severe internal bleeding.

If you have any concerns about your pregnancy symptoms, consult your Doctor. 

Trying to get pregnant after ectopic pregnancy

You could have a healthy pregnancy after an ectopic pregnancy based on the following:

  • The treatment you underwent 

  • The state of your fallopian tubes

Consult your Doctor about when you can start trying again for a baby. Usually, a waiting period of at least 3 months is suggested so that your body can heal properly. 

It could be difficult for you to get pregnant after an ectopic pregnancy if:

  • One of your fallopian tubes was removed

  • Your fallopian tubes are scarred

It is best to consult a fertility specialist to explore all your options.

Since you’re more likely to have another ectopic pregnancy after the first one, once you conceive again, pay attention to any pregnancy symptoms till your Doctor confirms the location of the fetus.

When to see a Doctor

You need to get emergency medical assistance if you experience any of these serious ectopic pregnancy symptoms, such as:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding

  • Severe abdominal pain 

  • Sharp pelvic pain 

  • Extreme dizziness

  • Fainting

  • Pain in the shoulder

If you have any more questions or concerns about ectopic pregnancy, feel free to ask our Doctors for advice.

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