Ectopic Pregnancy

What is ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic pregnancy is a condition where the implantation of an embryo (an early stage of pregnancy) occurs in a location other than the uterus (womb). Because the embryo is not in the uterus, it can not grow and survive. Typical symptoms include the general symptoms of pregnancy (a missed period, nausea, tender breasts, etc.) as well as low belly pain and bleeding or spotting from the vagina. Treatment may include medication or surgery to remove the pregnancy. If discovered early, the condition can be treated and the outlook for future pregnancies is good.

Risks

Ectopic pregnancy begins, like any pregnancy, when an egg is fertilized by a sperm. This develops into an embryo. In the case of ectopic pregnancy, the embryo does not reach the uterus but implants and begins to grow somewhere else. This is most commonly in the fallopian tube (the tube between the ovary and the uterus), but can also be in other locations. It occurs more commonly in women who have already had an ectopic pregnancy, women with damage to their fallopian tubes from infections and in women who smoke. Women older than 40 years of age might also be more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are pain felt low in the belly, a missed period and vaginal bleeding. Not everyone has all three symptoms. Some people may have the normal symptoms of early pregnancy, which include tiredness, nausea with vomiting and breast tenderness. Symptoms that the ectopic pregnancy needs urgent management are dizziness, fainting, severe belly pain, and vomiting.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis is usually made based on the symptoms and physical examination. A gynecological examination is usually performed. An ultrasound scan of the womb and fallopian tubes is needed to confirm the position of the pregnancy. A urine or blood test might be done to confirm the pregnancy.

Treatment

Treatment of an ectopic pregnancy requires removal of the embryo. This normally requires either medication or surgery. Miscarriage using medication is commonly recommended when treatment is not urgently needed. Laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) and physical removal of the pregnancy is the most common surgical method of treating this condition. Surgery is recommended when the ectopic pregnancy needs urgent treatment.

Prevention

Preventing and treating sexually transmitted infections is important in preventing ectopic pregnancies.

Other names for ectopic pregnancy

  • eccyesis