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Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. This article describes an ectopic pregnancy and offers causes, symptoms, and treatment of eptopic pregnancies. Keep reading for more information and prevention of eptopic pregnancy.

Pregnancy begins when an egg is fertilized by a sperm. In the normal course of things, the fertilized egg will move down one of the fallopian tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus (right or left, depending on which ovary released the egg), and implant, or attach itself, to the lining of the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy is one in which the egg implants somewhere else in the woman’s body. This article provides basic information about ectopic pregnancy.

Causes and Description of Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancies have been known to result from fertilized eggs implanting in the ovary itself, the fallopian tube, the cervix - the lower end of the uterus - or somewhere in the abdomen outside of the reproductive organs. A fallopian tube is the most common location, in which case the pregnancy may be referred to as a “tubal pregnancy.” Ectopic pregnancies occur in between 1 in 40 and 1 in 100 pregnancies.

Ectopic pregnancies can be caused because something slows or blocks the movement of the fertilized egg to the uterus. Some possible causes include damage, scarring, or unusual shape of tissue in the fallopian tube. These conditions can result from a variety of causes, such as surgery on the fallopian tubes, a prior infection, a birth defect affecting the formation of the fallopian tubes, a complication from a ruptured appendix, endometriosis, or an earlier ectopic pregnancy. Other possible causes include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), hormone therapy - such as that used in birth control pills, which can slow the fertilized egg’s movement - inflammation of the fallopian tubes (salpingitis), in vitro fertilization, either tubal sterilization or reversal of tubal sterilization, and - in rare cases - use of the so-called “morning after pill,” also known as “emergency contraception.”

Symptoms of a Ectopic Pregnancy

Many of the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are identical to pregnancy signs and symptoms of early pregnancy. The signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include:

  • failure to get a period when expected
  • unusual vaginal bleeding
  • tenderness of the breasts
  • feeling of faintness or fainting

Some of the signs and symptoms that are more particular to an ectopic pregnancy than pregnancy in general include:

  • pain in the lower back
  • cramping that is felt on only one side of the abdomen
  • sudden, sharp, and severe pain in the lower portion of the abdomen
  • shock, which can result from internal bleeding and is the earliest recognized symptom in a fifth of ectopic pregnancies.

Diagnosis of Ectopic Pregnancy and Next Steps

Determining that the cause of the symptoms is actually an ectopic pregnancy may include a variety of procedures, including a pelvic exam, blood tests, and a pregnancy ultrasound or other imaging studies. Because an ectopic pregnancy is, by definition, the result of a fertilized egg growing outside the uterus - the environment it needs to be in to survive and grow to term so that it can be born - an ectopic pregnancy must be ended. Dangers of ectopic pregnancies include not only the inevitable death of the fetus, but also damage to the mother’s reproductive anatomy so that her ability to bear children is undermined, as well as the danger of death from blood loss or rupture of the area in which the egg has implanted.

There are several different procedures that may be done in the case of ectopic pregnancy. These include three surgical methods called minilaparotomy, laparotomy, and laparoscopy, or treatment with a drug called methotrexate, which stops the growth of cells and dissolves the cells that had formed.

Prognosis and Prevention of Ectopic Pregnancy

Although most women who experience an ectopic pregnancy are able to have a normal pregnancy afterwards, this is not always the case. About 10 to 15% of women who have an ectopic pregnancy become infertile afterwards. And about 10 to 20% of women have another ectopic pregnancy. The best way to prevent both ectopic pregnancies and the complications that can result from them is to take the steps one can to prevent them happening. This includes avoiding behaviors that are likely to cause PID (these include: many sexual partners; unprotected sex without a condom; contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as making sure any STD, PID, or salpingitis is diagnosed and treated promptly to prevent problems with the fallopian tubes.


Related Article: Early Pregnancy Symptoms >>