Pregnancy starts with a fertilized egg. Normally, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine lining. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus.
An ectopic pregnancy mostly occurs in a fallopian tube, which carries the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. This type of ectopic pregnancy is known as a tubal pregnancy. At times, an ectopic pregnancy can also occur in other parts like the ovary, abdominal cavity or the cervix (lower part of the uterus which connects to the vagina).
An ectopic pregnancy cannot proceed normally. The fertilized egg cannot survive outside the uterus, and if left untreated, the growing tissue can cause life-threatening bleeding.
Symptoms of an Ectopic pregnancy
The female may not notice any symptoms of ectopic pregnancy at first. However, some females who have an ectopic pregnancy experience the usual early signs or symptoms of pregnancy like a missed period, breast soreness or tenderness and nausea.
If a female takes a pregnancy test for ectopic, the result will be positive. Still, an ectopic pregnancy cannot continue as normal. As the fertilized egg grows in an improper habitat (any place apart from the uterus), signs and symptoms can become more noticeable.
Early warning signs of ectopic pregnancy
Often, light vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain are the first warning signs of an ectopic pregnancy. If the blood leaks from the fallopian tube, the female may feel shoulder pain or an urgent need to pass stool. The specific symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy depend on where the blood collects and which nerves get irritated.
Emergency symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy
If the fertilized egg continues to grow in one of the fallopian tubes, the tube has a risk of rupturing. Heavy bleeding inside the abdomen is also likely to occur. Symptoms of this life-threatening condition also include extreme fainting, lightheadedness, and shock.
When to see your doctor?
Get emergency medical help in case you have any signs or symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, such as-
- Severe abdominal or pelvic pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Extreme lightheadedness
- Shoulder pain
Causes of an Ectopic Pregnancy
The causes of an ectopic pregnancy are not always clear. In some cases, the below-mentioned conditions have been linked to an ectopic pregnancy-
- Hormonal factors
- Genetic abnormalities
- Birth defects
- Inflammation and scarring of the fallopian tubes from a previous medical condition, surgery or infection
- Medical conditions that can affect the shape and condition of the fallopian tubes and other reproductive organs
The doctor may be able to give the female more specific information about her condition.
Who is at risk for Ectopic Pregnancy?
All sexually active females are at some risk for an ectopic pregnancy. Risk factors increase with one or more of the following cases-
- History of ectopic pregnancy
- Maternal age of 35 years or older
- History of multiple abortions
- History of pelvic or abdominal surgery
- History of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or endometriosis
- Conception occurred despite intrauterine device (IUD) or tubal ligation
- Conception assisted by fertility drugs or procedures
- History of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), like gonorrhea or chlamydia
- Structural abnormalities in the fallopian tubes which can make it hard for the egg to travel
If the female has any of the above risk factors, it is suggested to visit your doctor. The female can work with her doctor to minimize the risks for future ectopic pregnancies.
An ectopic pregnancy can cause the fallopian tube to burst open. Without treatment, the ruptured fallopian tube can cause life-threatening bleeding. Timely treatment of an ectopic pregnancy is very important.
How can you prevent ectopic pregnancy?
There is no way a female can prevent an ectopic pregnancy. But here are some ways to minimise the risk of ectopic pregnancy-
- Limit your number of sexual partners and use a condom during sex to help prevent STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and reduce your risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Do not smoke. Smoking has serious ill-effects on a female’s body and her reproductive system. If you do, quit smoking before you try to get pregnant.
Also Read: Abdominal Pain in Pregnancy- Is it Normal?