What is an ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy (EP) occurs when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the inside of the uterus. It can occur in the fallopian tubes, abdominal cavity, or cervix. The vast majority of ectopic pregnancies implant in one of the fallopian tubes and are not viable because they cannot get nutrients from the mother’s body.
Some ectopic pregnancies do happen to be implanted in places such as ovaries, uterine lining or cervix and may grow to be viable. If an ectopic pregnancy remains in place, it will eventually rupture due to pressure on the surrounding structures – causing internal bleeding and possible death for the mother if not treated immediately.
What causes an ectopic pregnancy?
The cause of EP is that the fallopian tube does not function properly and will not move the pregnancy into the uterus. Falling pregnant with ectopic pregnancy happens when there has been damage/scar tissue inside your reproductive system from previous surgeries and infections affecting your fertility such as pelvic inflammatory disease, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or previous ectopic pregnancy.
When you have your tubes tied, cauterized or removed, ectopic pregnancy might still happen if there was damage to these areas that are important for ovulation and fertility: fallopian tubes, cervix, uterus (womb), and ovaries. The length of a fallopian tube is 6 inches long (15 cm) but the part where the oocyte will fertilize is a fraction of an inch (.3cm). If any of these parts were damaged, then it could be very difficult to conceive since only one cell can travel up the fallopian tube at a time.
What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?
The symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are often confused with other problems that may occur early in a pregnancy. It is important to know what these signs and symptoms might be so you can act quickly if they happen to you.
One of the first problems pregnant women will have when trying to fall pregnant are irregular periods – this includes bleeding as well, instead of normal menstrual cycles.
There may also be cramping pain in the lower abdomen or high in the pelvis, feeling faint or dizzy. If you have been trying to conceive for a while and start to experience some of these symptoms it is important that you see your doctor so they can give you an ectopic pregnancy test (often called “TPT” which stands for Tubal Pregnancy Test). If ectopic pregnancy is suspected the woman will undergo further testing such as vaginal ultrasound examination or abdominal x-rays to locate the ectopic pregnancy.
Many ectopic pregnancies are found during routine prenatal care appointments by ultrasound examination. Ectopic pregnancies develop slowly and women may not notice any early signs that something might be wrong. This means sometimes it can take several weeks after a woman has had sex for her to realize she could be pregnant. Some ectopic pregnancies can often by found on a routine physical when the doctor feels something abnormal in your abdomen or pelvis area.
This is why ectopic pregnancy testing is important so that you know if the problem with your pregnancy was caused by an ectopic pregnancy and not actual miscarriage. Not every ectopic pregnancy will show up on an ultrasound examination; some may only be seen at laparoscopy where they use a special surgical camera to look inside, which requires surgery to confirm the ectopic’s diagnosis.
If you are experiencing any of these side effects then it is important that you see your doctor right away: difficulty breathing, dizziness, weakness,
What is the treatment for an ectopic pregnancy?
There are many ways ectopic pregnancies can be treated, but it depends on how far along the pregnancy is when discovered. According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), “when ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed before 12 weeks, surgery or medication abortion can successfully end ectopic pregnancy in over 90% of cases. When ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed between 12 and 18 weeks, ectopic pregnancy can be removed by surgery to preserve fertility in about 70% of women.”
If ectopic pregnancy goes un-treated it could rupture and cause internal bleeding that will require an immediate surgical procedure called a laparotomy to control bleeding or prevent death. Not only is this serious, the cost of such care increases with the need for immediate medical attention.
If ectopic pregnancy is not treated quickly then it could lead to long-term infertility issues related to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Remember PID happens when your reproductive system becomes infected like after chlamydia or gonorrhea. It’s important for your health and future fertility you start treatment right away upon diagnosis.
All in all, an ectopic pregnancy is usually something that can be easily treated. However, you must remain vigilant so that you can catch it early and avoid surgery.
Katie Reed is a passionate writer and mother of four vivacious boys from Salt Lake City, Utah. Drawing from her own journey through TTC, pregnancy, and the joys of raising children, she offers a wealth of insight into the world of motherhood. Beyond her heartfelt tales, Katie delights her readers with family-friendly recipes, engaging crafts, and a curated library of printables for both kids and adults. When she’s not penning her experiences, you’ll find her crafting memories with her husband and sons—Dexter, Daniel, Chester, and Wilder.