An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the main cavity of the uterus. Pregnancy begins with a fertilized egg. Normally, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus.
An ectopic pregnancy most often occurs in one of the tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus (fallopian tubes). This type of ectopic pregnancy is known as a tubal pregnancy. In some cases, however, an ectopic pregnancy occurs in the abdominal cavity, ovary or neck of the uterus (cervix).
An ectopic pregnancy can’t proceed normally. The fertilized egg can’t survive, and the growing tissue might destroy various maternal structures. Left untreated, life-threatening blood loss is possible.
Early treatment of an ectopic pregnancy can help preserve the chance for future healthy pregnancies.
In most pregnancies, the fertilized egg travels through the fallopian tube to the womb (uterus). If the movement of the egg is blocked or slowed through the tubes, it can lead to an ectopic pregnancy. Things that may cause this problem include:
· Birth defect in the fallopian tubes
· Having had a previous ectopic pregnancy
· Scarring from past infections or surgery of the female organs
The following also increase risk of an ectopic pregnancy:
· Age over 35
· Getting pregnant while having an intrauterine device (IUD)
· Having your tubes tied (tubal ligation): This is more likely 2 or more years after the procedure
· Having had surgery to untie tubes (tubal sterilization) to become pregnant
· Having had many sexual partners
· Some infertility treatments
Sometimes the cause is unknown. Hormones may play a role.
An ectopic pregnancy can occur even if you use birth control.
You may have early pregnancy symptoms, such as breast tenderness or nausea. Other symptoms may include:
- Low back pain
- Mild cramping on one side of the pelvis
- No periods
- Pain in the lower belly or pelvic area
If the area around the abnormal pregnancy ruptures and bleeds, symptoms may get worse. They may include:
- Fainting or feeling faint
- Intense pressure in the rectum
- Low blood pressure
- Pain in the shoulder area
- Severe, sharp, and sudden pain in the lower abdomen
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will do a pelvic exam. The exam may show tenderness in the pelvic area.
A pregnancy test and vaginal ultrasound will be done.
HCG is a hormone normally produced during pregnancy. Checking the blood level of this hormone () can diagnose pregnancy. If the blood level of HCG is not rising fast enough, your doctor may suspect an ectopic pregnancy.