Ectopic Pregnancy: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment Options

An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. The fallopian tube isn’t made to hold a growing embryo. This condition can lead to bleeding in the birth parent. An ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency treatment.

What is ectopic pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants itself outside of the womb, normally in one of the fallopian tubes. When the fertilized egg grows, it can burst and may cause life-threatening bleeding.

One study suggests that about 1 in 50 pregnancies in the U.S. are ectopic. Ectopic pregnancies are the main cause of pregnancy-related deaths within the first trimester.

Signs and symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy would not always cause signs and symptoms and can only be detected during a routine pregnancy test.

In case you do have symptoms, they usually tend to increase during the 4th and 12th week of pregnancy. Signs can include a combination of pregnancy.

Symptoms can include a combination of:

  • a missed period and other signs of pregnancy
  • tummy pain low down on one side
  • vaginal bleeding or a brown watery discharge
  • pain in the tip of your shoulder
  • discomfort when peeing or pooping

Causes of ectopic pregnancy

  • Ectopic pregnancies have no confirmed particular causes. The following circumstances may arise sometimes and result in ectopic pregnancy:
  • inflammation and scarring of the fallopian tubes from a previous medical condition
  • infection, or surgery
  • hormonal factors
  • genetic abnormalities
  • birth defects

Contact your best gynecologist to get more specific information about your condition.

Ectopic pregnancy complications

During an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg is wrapped in a structure that can grow for several weeks outside your uterus. But the structure usually bursts between 6 and 16 weeks. A ruptured ectopic pregnancy can cause severe bleeding. If the bleeding isn’t stopped, your body might start to shut down due to blood loss (hemorrhagic shock), and the odds of dying from it increase. If it’s treated before it bursts, it rarely results in death.

If the structure does burst, it may damage the fallopian tube it was attached to. In case of emergency, the doctor may remove the fallopian tube. Still, you have two fallopian tubes. You can get pregnant if your other tube is healthy. 

You can also discuss several other options to conceive with your doctor, such as IVF.

Diagnosis of Ectopic Pregnancy

It may consist of the following:

  • A urine sample that shows up on a pregnancy test as positive can confirm your pregnancy.
  • An ultrasound can confirm an ectopic pregnancy. This type of internal (transvaginal) scan is typically non-painful and provides clear views of the fallopian tubes. The scan may not be clear if the pregnancy is very early. It is typical to get a second scan a few days later if this is the situation.
  • Blood tests that monitor hCG levels, a hormone associated with pregnancy, are frequently performed. It is common practice to do blood tests to check the levels of the pregnancy-related hormone hCG. The hCG levels gradually rise during a developing pregnancy.

Can an ectopic pregnancy be prevented or avoided?

You can’t prevent an ectopic pregnancy, but you can try to control your risk factors. Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, plan on quitting before you get pregnant. 

Consult your doctor if you think you could have an ectopic pregnancy. He/she may take extra steps to detect an ectopic pregnancy early. This could include checking your hormone levels or scheduling an early sonogram.

Treating ectopic pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancies are not safe for the mother. Also, the embryo won’t be able to develop to term. It’s necessary to remove the embryo as soon as possible for the mother’s immediate health and long-term fertility. Treatment options vary depending on the location of the ectopic pregnancy and its development.

  1. Medication

Your doctor may decide that immediate complications are unlikely. In this case, your doctor can prescribe several medications that could keep the ectopic mass from bursting. According to the AAFP, one common medication for this is methotrexate (Rheumatrex).

It is also advised to perform routine blood tests to monitor the medication’s effectiveness. When the medicine is working properly, it will produce symptoms resembling a miscarriage. 

These include:

  • cramping
  • bleeding
  • the passing of tissue

Further surgery is rarely required after this occurs. Methotrexate doesn’t carry the same risks of fallopian tube damage that come with surgery. However, you won’t be able to get pregnant for several months after taking this medication.

  1. Surgery

Many surgeons suggest removing the embryo and repairing any internal damage. This procedure is called a laparotomy. 

If the surgery is unsuccessful, the surgeon may repeat a laparotomy, this time through a larger incision. Your doctor may also need to remove the fallopian tube during surgery if it’s damaged.

Conclusion

An ectopic pregnancy can be unexpected and scary. You’re probably feeling many emotions, including grief, shock, and anxiety. Even if your pregnancy was unplanned, going through an ectopic pregnancy can cause trauma. Talking to your partner, healthcare provider or a mental health professional may be helpful as you navigate your feelings. In time, you’ll heal from an ectopic pregnancy. If you are planning a pregnancy shortly, contact your top gynecologist to prevent your risk for another ectopic pregnancy.

FAQs

Is constipation a symptom of ectopic pregnancy?

No, constipation is not a typical symptom of ectopic pregnancy. Common symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, and shoulder pain. However, it’s important to note that everyone’s experience can vary, so if you have concerns, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional.

When do the signs of an ectopic pregnancy appear?

The first signs of an ectopic pregnancy often appear between weeks four and twelve of pregnancy. Some women initially experience no symptoms.

Does ectopic pregnancy cause pain?

Ectopic pregnancy patients may have irregular bleeding and pelvic or abdominal pain. Pain frequently just affects one side. Between the six and eight weeks following the last regular menstrual period, symptoms commonly appear.

Is ectopic pregnancy genetic?

Ectopic pregnancy isn’t hereditary: i.e., it isn’t always a condition that passes from parent to offspring. 

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Author

  • Dr Khadija

    DPT | MS Pain Management | Intra-articular Injec Specialist | Acupuncturist | Cupping Therapist | Oncology Pain Specialist | Certified Chiropractor 🇬🇧 | Medical Writer | Author