What is an ectopic pregnancy?
In a normal
pregnancy, a fertilized egg travels through a
fallopian tube to the
uterus. The egg attaches in the uterus and starts to
grow. But in an ectopic pregnancy , the fertilized egg attaches (or implants)
someplace other than the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube. (This is why
it is sometimes called a tubal pregnancy.) In rare cases, the egg implants in
an ovary, the cervix, or the belly.
There is no way to save an ectopic pregnancy. It
cannot turn into a normal pregnancy. If the egg keeps growing in the fallopian
tube, it can damage or burst the tube and cause heavy bleeding that could be
deadly. If you have an ectopic pregnancy, you will need quick treatment to end
it before it causes dangerous problems.
What causes an ectopic pregnancy?
pregnancy is often caused by damage to the fallopian tubes. A fertilized egg
may have trouble passing through a damaged tube, causing the egg to implant and
grow in the tube.
Things that make you more likely to have
fallopian tube damage and an ectopic pregnancy include:
Some medical treatments can increase your risk of ectopic
pregnancy. These include:
What are the symptoms?
In the first few weeks, an
ectopic pregnancy usually causes the same symptoms as a normal pregnancy, such
as a missed menstrual period, fatigue, nausea, and sore breasts.
The key signs of an ectopic pregnancy are:
- Pelvic or belly pain. It may be sharp on one
side at first and then spread through your belly. It may be worse when you move
- Vaginal bleeding.
If you think you are pregnant and you have these
symptoms, see your doctor right away.
How is an ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?
test can show if you are pregnant. To find out if you have an ectopic
pregnancy, your doctor will likely do:
- A pelvic exam to check the size of your
uterus and feel for growths or tenderness in your belly.
- A blood
test that checks the level of the pregnancy hormone (hCG). This test is
repeated 2 days later. During early pregnancy, the level of this hormone
doubles every 2 days. Low levels suggest a problem, such as ectopic pregnancy.
ultrasound. This test can show pictures of what is
inside your belly. With ultrasound, a doctor can usually see a pregnancy in the
uterus 6 weeks after your last menstrual period.
How is it treated?
The most common treatments are
medicine and surgery. In most cases, a doctor will treat an ectopic pregnancy
right away to prevent harm to the woman.
Medicine can be used if
the pregnancy is found early, before the tube is damaged. In most cases, one or
more shots of a medicine called methotrexate will end the pregnancy. Taking the
shot lets you avoid surgery, but it can cause side effects. You will need to
see your doctor for follow-up blood tests to make sure the shot worked.
For a pregnancy that has gone beyond the first few weeks, surgery is
safer and more likely to work than medicine. If possible, the surgery will be
laparoscopy (say "lap-uh-ROSS-kuh-pee"). This type of
surgery is done through one or more small cuts (incisions) in your belly. If
you need emergency surgery, you may have a larger incision.
What can you expect after an ectopic pregnancy?
Losing a pregnancy is always hard, no matter how early it happened. Take
time to grieve your loss, and get the support you need to make it through this
You could be at risk for
depression after an ectopic pregnancy. If you have
symptoms of depression that last for more than a couple of weeks, be sure to
tell your doctor so you can get the help you need.
It is common to
worry about your fertility after an ectopic pregnancy. Having an ectopic
pregnancy does not mean that you can't have a normal pregnancy in the future.
But it does mean that:
- You may have trouble getting pregnant.
- You are more likely to have another ectopic pregnancy.
If you get pregnant again, be sure your doctor knows that
you had an ectopic pregnancy before. Regular testing in the first weeks of
pregnancy can find a problem early or let you know that the pregnancy is
Frequently Asked Questions