What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy? How To Notice the Signs and Get Help

By JayDee Vykokal

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. This type of pregnancy is not viable and can be life-threatening for the mother if left untreated. Thus, early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent serious complications, even death.

What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

The fallopian tubes are the guiding pathways for the egg to travel from one of the ovaries to the uterus. There are two fallopian tubes, each attached to one of the ovaries. Each cycle (approximately 28 days), one fallopian tube helps deliver an egg to the uterus for potential fertilization.

In a normal pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants in the uterus lining and grows into a healthy baby. However, in an ectopic pregnancy, the egg begins to develop outside the uterus, typically in one of the fallopian tubes–where the egg is accidentally fertilized and implanted before reaching its final destination.

Other less common areas where an ectopic pregnancy may occur include the cervix, ovary, or abdominal area. These account for less than 10% of cases.

Ectopic pregnancies are relatively rare, occurring in about 2% of all pregnancies. When interventions are used to facilitate pregnancy, the risk increases slightly, ranging from 2% to 5%.

Symptoms To Look Out for With an Ectopic Pregnancy

Any pregnancy can present many new or hidden symptoms for an expecting mom, making it hard to determine whether symptoms are “normal” or something more sinister, like an ectopic pregnancy. Whether you’ve had a positive pregnancy test or not, scheduling a visit with your obstetrician or gynecologist is a must.

The most common symptom of an ectopic pregnancy is abdominal pain, usually on one side or in the lower abdomen. This pain can range from mild and dull to severe and sharp.

Other symptoms to look out for include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Shoulder pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • In some cases, a woman may also experience dizziness or fainting due to internal bleeding

It is important to note that these symptoms can also indicate other medical conditions, such as PMS (premenstrual syndrome), so it is crucial to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Not all women will experience severe symptoms in the first few weeks of an ectopic pregnancy. Sometimes, the pregnancy may be detected during a routine ultrasound or pelvic exam.

If you suspect that you may have an ectopic pregnancy or something feels off, seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam, along with blood tests and imaging scans, such as ultrasounds, to determine the location of the pregnancy.

Depending on the severity and location of the ectopic pregnancy, treatment options may include medication to stop the growth of the pregnancy or surgery to remove it. In some cases, if the fallopian tube is damaged or ruptured, it may also need to be removed.

The Importance of a Quick Diagnosis

Data shows that undiagnosed ectopic pregnancies are associated with high morbidity and mortality rates. The earlier an ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed, the more likely it can be treated successfully with minimal complications. However, an ectopic pregnancy can lead to severe internal bleeding and permanent damage to reproductive organs if left untreated.

Thankfully, obstetricians are trained to diagnose ectopic pregnancies through routine prenatal care. They can perform life-saving interventions and emotionally support women experiencing this type of pregnancy.

The Emotional Impact

Of course, dealing with an ectopic pregnancy can also emotionally affect a person. It is common for individuals to experience feelings of hopelessness, shock, grief, and guilt after an ectopic pregnancy diagnosis. While the pregnancy isn’t viable, it can feel like the loss of a potential child, just as any miscarriage does.

Seeking support from loved ones and professionals can be beneficial in coping with these emotions. Additionally, joining support groups or online communities can provide a sense of understanding and comfort from others who have gone through similar experiences.

Support for Mental and Physical Health After an Ectopic Pregnancy

While research shows that social support is essential for a woman recovering from an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, sadly, this isn’t always adequately addressed. Hospitals and staff aiding women in their recovery often focus on their physical health and healing, while their mental state is just as important (if not more).

Women can advocate for their health needs by choosing healthcare professionals who emphasize holistic, whole-person care if available to them in their demographic. They should also surround themselves with supportive family and friends who will listen and provide emotional support during this challenging time rather than writing it off as “not a big deal” or pretending it didn’t happen.

Risk Factors for Ectopic Pregnancy

Certain risk factors can increase the chances of having an ectopic pregnancy, such as:

  • Previous history of an ectopic pregnancy
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Inflammation or scarring in the fallopian tubes from a previous ectopic pregnancy or STD (sexually transmitted disease)
  • Previous pelvic surgery for infertility or tubal surgery
  • Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside of it
  • Use of fertility treatments, such as IVF (in vitro fertilization) or other assisted reproductive technologies
  • Smoking

If you have any of these risk factors, it is crucial to discuss them with your doctor and closely monitor your pregnancy for any signs of an ectopic pregnancy.

Prevention Tips

There is no surefire way to prevent an ectopic pregnancy, but there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  • Practice safe sex and use protection to avoid STDs
  • Seek prompt treatment for any STDs or infections to reduce the risk of scarring in the fallopian tubes
  • Quit smoking and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Practice healthy lifestyle habits to reduce the body’s overall inflammation

Overall, to reduce your risk, it is essential to maintain good reproductive health and undergo regular check-ups with your doctor.

Ectopic Pregnancy FAQs

With all the essential details reviewed above, moms often have more questions about an ectopic pregnancy. Review these frequently asked questions for more information.

Why Is an Ectopic Pregnancy Dangerous?

An ectopic pregnancy is dangerous because as the egg grows, it can cause the fallopian tube to burst. This can cause internal bleeding and damage nearby organs as the fertilized egg expands. In severe cases, it can lead to life-threatening complications for the mother.

Does an Ectopic Pregnancy Test Positive With a Pregnancy Test?

Yes, an ectopic pregnancy will test positive on a pregnancy test since the body produces the same hormone (HCG) as in a normal pregnancy. However, if you experience any symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, it is crucial to consult your doctor for further testing and diagnosis.

How Soon Are Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy Usually Recognized?

Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy can occur as early as 4 to 5 weeks after a missed period and typically become more noticeable as 12 weeks approach. However, it is crucial to note that some women may not experience symptoms until later in the pregnancy.

How Is an Ectopic Pregnancy Confirmed?

Like any newly pregnant woman, a woman with an ectopic pregnancy will typically produce HCG hormone. However, in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, there is no physical growth of the baby as it has been implanted outside of the uterus. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may perform blood tests and imaging scans to locate and assess the development of the fertilized egg.

Is There Any Way To Move an Ectopic Pregnancy Into the Uterus?

Unfortunately, no. An ectopic pregnancy is treated through medication or surgery and cannot be relocated to the uterus.

Is There Always Pain Associated With an Ectopic Pregnancy?

Not necessarily. Some women may experience mild or no symptoms, making it difficult to detect without medical intervention. Anytime a missed period or abnormal bleeding is present, it is essential to consult with a doctor.

Can an Ectopic Pregnancy Resolve on Its Own?

Yes, in some cases, the egg will die and be reabsorbed, much like any other type of miscarriage. However, it is still crucial to consult with a doctor as soon as possible to monitor the situation and prevent potential complications.

Does Ectopic Pregnancy Affect Fertility in the Future?

An ectopic pregnancy does not directly affect fertility, but it can cause damage to the fallopian tubes, which may reduce the chances of a successful pregnancy in the future. In some cases, if one fallopian tube is removed due to an ectopic pregnancy, the other tube may still allow for natural conception.

However, if both tubes are damaged or removed (uncommon), exploring other fertility options, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), may be necessary.

Prompt Care Is Key

In conclusion, the most important thing to remember about ectopic pregnancy is that prompt medical care is crucial. If you experience any symptoms, have any risk factors, or are concerned about your reproductive health, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. With timely and appropriate treatment, the chances for a full recovery and future successful pregnancies are high.

And most importantly, don’t hesitate to seek support from your loved ones during this challenging time. Together, you can navigate an ectopic pregnancy’s emotional and physical journey.This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.