Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg implants into tissue outside the uterus lining. In most cases, these pregnancies are located in a fallopian tube, which is why they’re also called tubal pregnancies. Unfortunately, all ectopic pregnancies require termination of the pregnancy in order to save the mother. According to the APA, they take place in about 1 of every 50 pregnancies.
The sooner you know you have an ectopic pregnancy, the better as this prevents more extreme outcomes, which can include the loss of a fallopian tube or a tubal rupture. As you can imagine, a ruptured tube is extremely painful and causes extreme bleeding. It can also impact your future fertility.
Causes of tubal pregnancies
Typically, a fertilized egg won’t implant into the tube or outside the uterus lining unless:
- The tube is inflamed or has existing scarring or blocking
- Previous pelvic surgery or injury that caused adhesions
- Abnormal growths inside the tube
- Anatomical abnormalities cause partial- or full-blockages
In all of these cases, the fertilized egg is unable to pass all the way through the fallopian tube and into the uterus, so it has no choice but to implant into the closest available space. Unfortunately, the uterus is the only organ equipped to expand, house, nourish and support a developing fetus and baby.
Are you at risk?
Knowing you have a higher risk of developing an ectopic is helpful because you can pay close attention to your physical signs and symptoms of pregnancy. While some, like breast tenderness, are common in all pregnancies, the majority of the others are not.
Risk factors for developing an ectopic pregnancy include:
- Women 35-years old and older
- Having a previous ectopic pregnancy
- Multiple induced abortions
- Conceiving a baby while an IUD is in place or after a tubal ligation
- A previous abdominal or pelvic surgery
Know the signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy
There are also times a woman doesn’t know she’s at risk; the ectopic pregnancy may be the first indication that tubal inflammation, blockages or scarring exist. By knowing the signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, you’ll be quicker to take action if you or someone you know experiences them.
- Sharp, stabbing pains in the pelvis and abdomen. If the tube tears or ruptures, excessive bleeding can also cause pressure that leads to pain in the shoulder or neck areas
- Bleeding or spotting
- Nausea and vomiting
Call your doctor immediately (get to an urgent care or ER facility if it’s after-hours) anytime you experience sharp pains or bleeding during your pregnancy.
Diagnosing and treating an ectopic pregnancy
Typically, ectopic pregnancies are diagnosed via a transvaginal ultrasound. Low HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin and low progesterone levels also indicate a pregnancy may be ectopic.
Even the “best case scenario” is still traumatic for anyone who experiences an ectopic pregnancy. When caught early enough, women take Methotrexate, a drug that stops the fetus from developing any further, after which the body absorbs the pregnancy material. This treatment is optimal because it poses the least harm to the fallopian tube.
Laparoscopic surgery is a potential treatment, allowing doctors to remove the pregnancy tissue and try to repair the tube if it’s damaged. If the tube tears or ruptures, it may need to be removed.
Observing routine woman wellness visits and being completely honest with your doctor gives us the opportunity to learn if you are at risk so we can do all we can to prevent an ectopic pregnancy. Women’s Health Associates is an all-women, for-women service provider and we hope you’ll schedule your next appointment with us to receive exceptional care throughout all stages of your reproductive life.