An ectopic pregnancy sometimes referred to as a tubal pregnancy, always results ina non-viable pregnancy. This is because the fertilized egg cannot survive when outside of the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus- most commonly the fallopian tube. Since only the uterus is designed to stretch as the embryo grows, an ectopic pregnancy can cause the fallopian tube to rupture which is a life-threatening situation that requires emergency treatment.

Symptoms of a Tubal Pregnancy

In the first few weeks of any pregnancy there are some “symptoms” that often happen – sore breasts, missing your period, fatigue, nausea and morning sickness. However, when there is an ectopic pregnancy there are some significant differences. These signs are:
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic or belly pain- specifically sharp pains on one side of your Lower belly
  • Shoulder pain
  • Low blood pressure
  • Extreme lightheadedness or fainting
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

The Causes of an Ectopic Pregnancy

While anyone can have an ectopic pregnancy, there are factors that can contribute to them. These causes include:
  • History- If you have had a tubal pregnancy in the past, then the chance of a second one is much higher.
  • Tubal Surgery – surgery to correct closed or damaged fallopian tubes can increase the risk of an embryo getting stuck in the fallopian tube
  • Infection – A history of PID, pelvic inflammatory disease, or gonorrhea/chlamydia, which can cause scarring to the fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries and cervix can result in a tubal pregnancy.
  • Smoking – The more you smoke the greater your risk of an ectopic pregnancy due to tubal malfunction.
  • Birth Control- While an IUD prevents pregnancy, it is not infallible. Women who get become pregnant with an IUD in place are more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy. In addition, a tubal ligation, getting one’s tubes tied, makes the risk of a tubal pregnancy higher should you still become pregnant.
  • Fertility – There has been some research that suggests that women who have in vitro fertilization (IVF) are more prone to an ectopic pregnancy.

Treatment of an Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy can be dangerous, but it doesn’t have to be life-threatening to the mother. However, action must be taken quickly to remove the pregnancy tissue. Depending on at what point a tubal pregnancy is discovered, there are 3 common methods of treatment. Medication – When detected early, ectopic pregnancy can often be treated with an injection of methotrexate. This will stop the growth of the pregnancy and begin the miscarriage process. Laparoscopic Surgeries – This approach involves making a small abdominal incision, near or in the navel. With a laparoscopic approach, the doctor will use a thin tube with a camera lens to view the tubal area. In a salpingostomy (opening of the tube), the tubal pregnancy is removed, and the tube is left to heal. In a salpingectomy, the entire fallopian tube is removed; this is usually reserved for a tube that is very damaged. Your doctor will decide which approach is best based on the extent of the damage to the fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy can be a frightening experience. If you are concerned that you might be at risk or have a question about your pregnancy, be sure to talk to one of our pregnancy specialists.

Additional Resources on Ectopic Pregnancy:

The Truth About Ectopic Pregnancy Care Ectopic Pregnancy Ectopic Pregnancy. Am I at risk? Image from Flickr.