You might have heard of an “Ectopic pregnancy” which is when the baby is growing outside uterus. It is also known as an extrauterine or tubal pregnancy as the egg implants in the fallopian tube. The baby can’t ultimately survive outside the uterus and if it continues to grow within the fallopian tube it can cause organ damage and life-threatening blood loss. This form of pregnancy is linked with about 3 to 4 percent of pregnancy-related deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 2 percent of all pregnancies are ectopic.
What is Ectopic pregnancy?
Normal pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus. But in an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus- it could attach to the fallopian tube, cervix, or abdominal cavity.
This abnormality causes a fertilized egg not to grow properly (obviously because it is growing outside the uterus). However, in this case, a pregnancy test may reveal that a woman is pregnant
If left untreated, ectopic pregnancy can lead to life-threatening bleeding as the tissue continues to grow. So you need to take prompt treatment to reduce the risk of complications and increase the chance for healthy pregnancies in the future.
What Causes Ectopic Pregnancy?
There are different causes of an ectopic pregnancy, and it can be quite hard to trace. However, the following conditions have a link to many cases of ectopic pregnancy:
- Inflammation of the fallopian tube from a past medical condition, surgery, or infection
- Genetic abnormalities
- Hormonal factors
- Medical conditions that affect the condition of the reproductive organ
- Birth defects.
However, most times your doctor may be able to check your condition and give you specific information.
Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms
Just like a normal pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy will show a positive result when you have a pregnancy test. But you may have breast soreness and nausea when you have both uterine and ectopic pregnancies.
However, after about 4 to 10 weeks of an ectopic pregnancy, you’re likely to experience some common symptoms that can indicate a medical emergency:
- Severe pains on the sides of the abdomen
- Heavy or light vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or fainting
- Shoulder tip pain
- Rectal pressure
If you’re pregnant and notice any of these symptoms, ensure you consult your doctor immediately for proper treatment.
Who is at Risk of Having an Ectopic Pregnancy?
As you ask, “what is ectopic pregnancy all about?” keep in mind that all active women are at risk of having an ectopic pregnancy. But the risk factors increase with the following:
- History of tubal surgery
- History of ectopic pregnancy
- Age (35 or older)
- Conception aided by fertility drugs or procedures
- Structural abnormalities in the fallopian tube
- History of sexually transmitted diseases.
If you notice any of the above risk factors, you can consult your doctor or a fertility specialist to help you minimize the risk of future ectopic pregnancies.
Ectopic Pregnancy Diagnosis
Ectopic pregnancy is hard to diagnose from a physical exam. But your doctor can still use some diagnostic procedures including:
- Transvaginal ultrasound: This method involves inserting a special instrument into your vaginal to see if a gestational sac is in the uterus.
- Blood test: This checks your level of progesterone and chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) – two hormones released during pregnancy. If the level stays the same or decreases over a few days, the pregnancy is likely to be ectopic.
If you are having several symptoms together, such as bleeding and pain, your fallopian tube could rupture, especially in extreme cases. Hence, your doctor will have to perform immediate surgery.
Treatment of Ectopic Pregnancy
Both the mother and baby are not safe in an ectopic pregnancy. Hence, it is important to take the embryo out to keep the mother in good health and support her long-term fertility.
There are different treatment options and it depends on the location and development of the ectopic pregnancy.
This involves the removal of the embryo and repairs of any internal damage- a procedure called a laparotomy. The doctor inserts a small camera through a small incision to enhance better view.
If the surgery is unsuccessful, the doctor may have to repeat the whole procedure, but through a larger incision this time. However, the surgeon may have to remove the fallopian tube completely if it’s damaged.
After the surgery, your doctor would give some specific instructions regarding the care of your incisions. You would need to check these incisions daily for any signs of danger, including:
- Continuous bleeding
- Foul-smell from the site
- Excessive bleeding
- Hot to the touch
However, you should expect to see small blood clots and light vaginal bleeding after surgery. This can last for up to six weeks after surgery.
If the doctor checks that you have a lower risk of complication, several medications could be prescribed to help you keep the ectopic pregnancy from bursting. A common medication is “methotrexate”- a drug that stops rapidly dividing cells, including the cells of the ectopic mass.
Usually, your doctor would give you the methotrexate as an injection. Afterward, you would have to get regular blood tests to know if the drug is effective. If it works, you will notice signs of miscarriage, including:
- The passing of tissue
After using this drug, you barely need any further surgery. Methotrexate doesn’t pose any risk of fallopian tube damage which is common with surgery. However, it is important to note that you won’t be able to get pregnant for many months after taking this drug.
Now you have the answer to the question, “what is ectopic pregnancy all about?”, including its symptoms, risk factors, and treatment, it is important to report any strange symptom you notice in your body after you test positive for pregnancy. If you have a preexisting reproductive problem, tell your, tell your doctor to help your with the best treatment to reduce the risk of future ectopic pregnancy. However, after losing this pregnancy, you can take care of yourself by taking enough rest, exercising, and eating healthy foods.