Ectopic pregnancies are rare, and only affect around 1% of pregnancies.
An ectopic pregnancy (ectopic meaning ‘out of place') occurs when a fertilised egg becomes embedded outside of the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube.
However, other non-tubal ectopic pregnancies may occur, including cervical pregnancies, ovarian (inside the ovary – rare) and others.
There have even been reported cases of ectopic pregnancy where a fertilised egg has implanted in a uterine scar from a previous c-section.
Though ectopic pregnancy is rare, it's important to be aware of the symptoms.
Here are five things you need to know about ectopic pregnancy:
#1: Risk Factors For Ectopic Pregnancy
In around a third of all cases, doctors are unable to identify the cause of the ectopic pregnancy. There are, however, certain risk factors that can increase your chance of suffering from an ectopic pregnancy. For example, if you:
- Are aged 35 or over
- Are a smoker
- Have previously suffered from a pelvic inflammatory disease
- Have suffered a previous ectopic pregnancy
- Have previously had pelvic or abdominal surgery
- Conceived with the help of IVF
- Had a contraceptive IUD (coil) when you conceived
- Have a malformed fallopian tube
#2: Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy
Symptoms most commonly appear from week five onwards. The two most common symptoms are:
- One sided abdominal pain – some women describe this pain as being severe and persistent
- Vaginal bleeding
Some women also report some of the following symptoms:
- Shoulder tip pain – this is felt at the tip of your shoulder, and is usually most noticeable when lying down
- Painful urination
- Painful passing of stools
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
Not all women experience symptoms, in fact some women do not discover that the pregnancy is ectopic until the ultrasound scan.
#3: When To Seek Help
It is important to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy as early as possible, as this may help to avoid further complications. You should contact your healthcare provider if you:
- Experience unusual vaginal bleeding
- Have persistent abdominal pain
You should contact your healthcare provider as a matter of urgency if you:
- Experience sudden, sharp abdominal pain
- Feel dizzy or lightheaded
- Look unusually pale
- Suffer from sickness or diarrhoea
- Have an increased heart rate
In an increasingly rare number of cases, the fallopian tube can rupture, causing internal bleeding. If this occurs, you will need immediately medical help. Thanks to a better understanding of the condition, and better diagnostics, the number of women experiencing rupture has been greatly reduced.
#4: How Ectopic Pregnancy Is Treated
It is not possible to save an ectopic pregnancy, sadly the medical knowledge does not yet exist of how to relocate the embryo to the uterus.
There are a number of treatment options available, and the one most suitable for you will depend upon your unique situation. Treatment options include:
- Active monitoring – some cases of ectopic pregnancy resolve themselves, and your healthcare provider may wish to monitor you for a short while to see if this occurs.The pregnancy may be absorbed into your body tissue, leaving you free from the need for further treatment. This will usually be offered as a first treatment option if you are experiencing no or mild symptoms.
- Medication – medication can be used to prevent the embryo from developing. This option is usually seen as a second choice, and is most commonly offered when the ectopic pregnancy has been diagnosed early. Once the medication has been administered, you will be closely monitored to ensure the pregnancy resolves itself. Your doctor will then advise you to use contraception for six months, this is because the medication used can increase the risk of developmental problems in babies conceived within six months of usage.
- Surgery – this is the most common treatment method for ectopic pregnancy. The type of surgery will depend upon your unique situation, however laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) is the favoured choice. This allows the surgeon to insert a small camera through a keyhole incision, and investigate the fallopian tubes to check for damage. In some cases, the pregnancy may be removed, and the fallopian tube will be repaired. It is also possible, however, for the fallopian tube to be removed.
#5: What To Do After An Ectopic Pregnancy
Pregnancy loss is devastating, and you may wish to seek counselling to help you deal with your emotions. Your healthcare provider should be able to refer you to a counsellor. You may also find a support group helps you to cope with the loss. Ask your healthcare provider if there are any support groups in your local area, or look for an online group to join.
Be honest with your partner about how you are feeling, and open up to trusted friends and family. Nobody is expecting you to be ok, so be honest and make the most of the support of your loved ones.
If you would like to try for a baby, speak to your healthcare provider to find out when it's okay for you to start trying. This will depend on your unique case, so it's always best to get advice.