A normal pregnancy develops inside the uterus after the fertilized egg travels through the fallopian tubes and attaches itself to the uterine lining. An ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg attaches somewhere else, usually in the fallopian tube. That is why an ectopic pregnancy is also known as a “tubal pregnancy.”
Ectopic pregnancies are rare and happen only in about 2 out of every 100 pregnancies. But they are very dangerous if left untreated. If stretched too much by an ectopic pregnancy, fallopian tubes can also break. This is known as a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and can cause infections, internal bleeding, and in some cases, death.
Also Read: Excessive Bleeding During Pregnancy
What are the possible causes of ectopic pregnancy?
The cause of an ectopic pregnancy is not always clear. But, in most cases, the following conditions have been linked to an ectopic pregnancy-
- Hormonal factors
- Genetic abnormalities
- Birth defects
- Inflammation and scarring of fallopian tubes from infections, a previous medical condition, or a surgery
- Medical conditions which affect the shape and/or condition of the fallopian tubes and other reproductive organs
The doctor may be able to give the female more specific information about her condition after analyzing the current health, lifestyle and previous medical history.
Who is at risk for an ectopic pregnancy?
All sexually active women are at a risk for an ectopic pregnancy to some extent. Risk factors increase with one or more of the following factors in favor-
- Age of 35 years or above
- History of pelvic or abdominal surgery
- Multiple abortions
- Smoking (Also Read: Smoking and its implications on pregnancy)
- History of ectopic pregnancy
- History of STDS like sexually transmitted diseases, gonorrhea or chlamydia
- History of PID or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or Endometriosis
- Pregnancy occurred despite contraceptive methods including tubal ligation or intrauterine device (IUD)
- Conception by fertility drugs or other procedures
- Structural abnormalities of the fallopian tubes which make it hard for the fertilized egg to travel
If you have any of the above risk factors, talk to your gynecologist. You can work with your gynecologist to minimize your risks for ectopic pregnancies.
What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?
Nausea and breast tenderness or soreness are common symptoms in both ectopic and uterine pregnancy. Below mentioned symptoms are more common in an ectopic pregnancy and may indicate a medical emergency-
- Sharp waves of pain in the lower abdomen, pelvic region, shoulders, or neck
- Severe pain on one side of the abdomen
- Light to heavy spotting or bleeding
- Rectal pressure
- Dizziness or fainting
Contact your gynecologist and seek immediate treatment if you know that you are pregnant and have any of the above symptoms.
How is Ectopic Pregnancy diagnosed?
A urine test can tell if a female is pregnant. To find out if the female has an ectopic pregnancy, the doctor will likely do the following-
- A pelvic exam to check the size of the uterus and feel for growths or tenderness in the belly.
- A blood test to check the level of the pregnancy hormone hCG. This test shall be repeated 2 days later. During early pregnancy, the level of hCG hormone doubles every 2 days. Low levels would suggest a problem like an ectopic pregnancy.
- An ultrasound to see pictures of the inside of the belly. With the ultrasound, the doctor can usually see the pregnancy at 6 weeks.
How is it treated?
The most common treatments for ectopic pregnancy are medicine and surgery. In most cases, the doctor will treat the ectopic pregnancy right away to prevent any harm to the female.
Medicine can be used if the ectopic pregnancy is found early before the fallopian tube gets damaged. In most cases, one or more shots of medicine known as methotrexate are used to end the pregnancy. Taking the shot lets avoid surgery. But, it can cause side effects.
For an ectopic pregnancy beyond the first few weeks, laparoscopic surgery is safe and more likely to work better than medicine.
Can I get pregnant after an ectopic pregnancy?
Most females who have an ectopic pregnancy can have healthy pregnancies in the future. But, it also largely depends on the treatment the female had and the condition of her fallopian tubes. If one of the fallopian tubes was removed or the tubes are scarred, it can be more difficult to get pregnant. If the female has an ectopic pregnancy, she is also more likely to get another one in the future. So, stay in touch with your gynecologists to prevent any complications and maximize your chances of having a healthy pregnancy.
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