The ideal journey from ovulation to pregnancy sees the egg travel from the ovary, through a Fallopian tube to the uterus, where it implants and grows. However, in rare cases, this journey is interrupted and the egg does not reach its destination. An ectopic pregnancy is a condition in which a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus.
In many cases, the egg settles in the Fallopian tubes, so this condition is often also called a tubal pregnancy. Regardless of where the egg ends up, an ectopic pregnancy can threaten the woman’s health or even her life.
Risk and Symptoms
Ectopic pregnancies occur at a rate of about 1% to 2% of natural live births. However, this rate rises to about 4% in those who use assistive reproductive technologies like IVF.
In many cases of ectopic pregnancy, the exact cause is unknown, but there are factors that can indicate a greater risk of developing the condition:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Surgery in the uterus or fallopian tubes
- Previous ectopic pregnancy
One in ten women with ectopic pregnancy experience no symptoms, while one-third have no observable medical signs. In most cases, symptoms are nonspecific and may be confused for other conditions such as infection of the fallopian tubes or appendicitis. They can include:
- Sudden pain in the lower abdomen
- Vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in rare cases
Effects & Treatment
Complications from ectopic pregnancy can have lasting effects. A tubal pregnancy can cause damage to the Fallopian tube that makes it harder to conceive in the future. Even more dangerous, the tube can rupture, leading to internal bleeding and shock. Such cases require emergency surgery, and the tube must be partially or completely removed. If untreated, the bleeding can be deadly.
If the ectopic pregnancy is detected before a rupture, it can be treated with medication such as methotrexate. This drug, normally used to fight cancer, stops the growth of rapidly dividing cells. However, not all cases respond to medication, and surgery may be necessary even without a rupture. As with all abdominal surgery, this can put the patient at risk of infection, including PID, a common cause of infertility in women.
It is important to keep your doctor informed of any symptoms you experience while pregnant, or even if you think you may be pregnant. Ectopic pregnancy can be difficult to detect, and your doctor may need to run tests to determine if you have the condition. If you want more information about improving fertility or tips for trying to conceive, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for our newsletter below.