In a normal pregnancy, your ovary releases an egg into your fallopian tube. If the egg meets with a sperm, the fertilized egg moves into your uterus to attach to its lining and continues to grow for the next 9 months.
But in up to 1 of every 50 pregnancies, the fertilized egg stays in your fallopian tube. In that case, it’s called an ectopic pregnancy or a tubal pregnancy. In rare cases, the fertilized egg attaches to one of your ovaries or another organ in your abdomen. In either case, instead of celebrating your pregnancy, you find your life is in danger. Ectopic pregnancies require emergency treatment.
Most often, ectopic pregnancy happens within the first few weeks of pregnancy. You might not even know you’re pregnant yet, so it can be a big shock. Doctors usually discover it by the 8th week of pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancies can be scary and sad. The baby cannot survive, so it’s a loss that may take some time to get over. It may comfort you to know that if you have an ectopic pregnancy, you’ll likely be able to have a healthy pregnancy in the future.
Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy
- Light vaginal bleeding
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lower abdominal pain
- Sharp abdominal cramps
- Pain on one side of your body
- Dizziness or weakness
- Pain in your shoulder, neck, or rectum
- If the fallopian tube ruptures, the pain and bleeding could be severe enough to cause fainting.
If you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, contact your health care provider immediately and go to the emergency room. Getting to the hospital quickly is important to reduce the risk of hemorrhaging (severe bleeding) and to preserve your fertility.
Causes of an Ectopic Pregnancy
One cause of an ectopic pregnancy is a damaged fallopian tube that doesn’t let a fertilized egg into your uterus, so it implants in the fallopian tube or somewhere else.
You might not ever know what caused an ectopic pregnancy. But you are higher risk if you have:
Use of an intrauterine device (IUD), a form of birth control, that is inserted at the time of conception
- History of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Sexually-transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea
- Congenital abnormality (problem present at birth) of the fallopian tube
- History of pelvic surgery (because scarring may block the fertilized egg from leaving the fallopian tube)
- History of ectopic pregnancy
- Unsuccessful tubal ligation (surgical sterilization) or tubal ligation reversal
- Use of fertility drugs
- Infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF)
Diagnosing an Ectopic Pregnancy
Once you arrive at the hospital, a pregnancy test, a pelvic exam, and an ultrasound test may be performed to view the uterus’ condition and fallopian tubes.
If an ectopic pregnancy has been confirmed, the health care provider will decide on the best treatment based on your medical condition and your future plans for pregnancy.