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Ectopic pregnancy: What Are The Symptoms?

Posted On: February 06, 2020


An ectopic pregnancy, also known as extra-uterine pregnancy is a type of pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus. This type of pregnancy always occurs when the fertilized egg implants and starts growing outside the uterus. There are indications that up to 90% of all ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tube and when this happens, it’s called tubal pregnancy. Nevertheless, an ectopic pregnancy could also occur in other areas of the woman’s body, including the ovary, abdominal cavity or the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. In normal pregnancies, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus, but in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, it instead attaches itself elsewhere, in the belly. It is worthy to note that an ectopic pregnancy cannot proceed normally as it’s impossible for the fertilized egg to survive outside of the woman’s uterus. Therefore, an ectopic pregnancy needs prompt medical attention because the growing tissue can cause life threatening complications if left untreated for a long time.

The signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy typically happens within the first weeks of pregnancy. While most women may not notice anything at all, others may experience the usual pregnancy symptoms such as a missed period, morning sickness, and changes in breasts, etc. Although a pregnancy test will reveal a positive result, an ectopic pregnancy can never continue as a normal pregnancy. Most women will eventually start feeling the signs and symptoms as the pregnancy grows.

  • Early warning signs of an ectopic pregnancy

The earliest sign of an ectopic pregnancy is usually pelvic pain, which may be accompanied by light vaginal bleeding. However, the blood starts leaking from the fallopian tube you can start feeling severe abdominal pain, pelvic discomfort or an urge to have a bowel movement. If the bleeding becomes heavy, then you will be suffering from hemorrhaging, a condition which is characterized by shoulder pain as the blood fills your pelvis and abdomen. It is worthy to also note that your specific symptom is usually determined by where the blood collects as well as the particular nerves that are irritated.

  • Emergency symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy

If an ectopic pregnancy is left untreated, the fertilized egg may continue to grow in the fallopian tube and could cause the tube to rupture. When this happens, there is likely to be heavy bleeding as well as other life-threatening symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, shock, fainting, and lightheadedness.

  • General signs of an ectopic pregnancy

The signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may vary from one woman to another. Therefore, it is advisable to seek medical attention if you have missed your period and are experiencing any of the following symptoms;

  • Sharp abdominal cramps
  • Light vaginal bleeding
  • Breast pain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Stomach upset and vomiting
  • Shoulder, neck or rectum pain
  • Dizziness or weakness
  • Pain on one side of your body.

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What causes an ectopic pregnancy?

A tubal pregnancy, which is the most common type of ectopic pregnancy usually happens when a fertilized egg gets stuck to the fallopian tube while on its way to the uterus. This typically happens if the fallopian tube has already been damaged by an inflammation or any other mishap. There are also shreds of evidences that hormonal imbalances as well as an abnormal development of the fertilized egg may equally play a role.

The risk factors of an ectopic pregnancy

Even though an ectopic pregnancy is largely associated with a damaged fallopian tube, some women may never know why they have an ectopic pregnancy. That being said, there are certain factors that may increase the risks of an ectopic or intrauterine pregnancy. Some of such factors nevertheless include;

  • An infection or inflammation: Women with sexually transmitted diseases are at a higher risk of having an ectopic pregnancy. This assertion can be backed by the fact that some sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause inflammation in the tubes and other nearby organs and thus, increase your risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.
  • A tubal surgery: Women who have undergone surgeries to correct a closed or damaged fallopian tube are also at higher risks of having an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Fertility treatment: The findings from some research have revealed that women who have had vitro fertilization (IVF) or a similar form of fertility treatment are likely to have an ectopic pregnancy. According to further findings from such studies, infertility itself may also increase a woman’s risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Birth control: Some birth control methods can equally increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. For instance, the chances of getting pregnant are rare for women using an intrauterine device (IUD). However, if you become pregnant while using an IUD, it’s likely to be an ectopic pregnancy. In the same vein, it’s almost impossible to get pregnant if you have undergone a birth control procedure called tubal ligation. But if you do eventually become pregnant after this procedure, it’s likely to be an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Smoking: Smoking is generally associated with many adverse side effects to the health, including the risk of developing many certain types of cancers. Well, there are also indications that smoking cigarettes just before you become pregnant can also increase your risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.
  • A previous ectopic pregnancy: Women who have had an ectopic pregnancy in the past are at greater risk of having another.

Complications of an ectopic pregnancy

A major complication of an ectopic pregnancy is the fact that it can cause your fallopian tube to burst open. Moreover, an ectopic pregnancy can cause severe bleeding that could be life-threatening if left untreated.

How is an ectopic pregnancy diagnosed and treated?

When you present the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor will likely start with a pelvic exam. The purpose of this pelvic exam is to determine if there are areas of pain, tenderness or mass in the fallopian tube. But of course, your doctor can’t diagnose an ectopic pregnancy by merely examining you. You will definitely need the following tests;

  1. Blood test

Your doctor will order for a human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) blood test to confirm if you are indeed pregnant. He may further recommend that this blood test be repeated every few days until an ultrasound finally confirms or rules out an ectopic pregnancy.

In addition, a complete blood count will be done to look out for anemia or other signs of blood loss. Your doctor may also test to check for your blood type in case you need a blood transfusion.

      2. An ultrasound

Your doctor will also conduct a transvaginal ultrasound to see the exact location of your pregnancy. During this test, a wand line device is placed inside your vagina. The device then uses sound waves to take images of your ovary, fallopian tubes and uterus, and sends the pictures to a nearby monitor.

Aside a transvaginal ultrasound, your doctor may also request for an abdominal ultrasound, through which he will confirm if it’s an ectopic pregnancy. Besides, an abdominal ultrasound can equally help your doctor determine if there is any internal bleeding caused by the ectopic pregnancy.

Nonetheless, a fertilized egg can never develop normally outside the uterus. Thus, once an ectopic pregnancy has been diagnosed, the ectopic tissue needs to be removed in a bid to avoid life-threatening complications. The ectopic tissue can however be removed through a number of ways, depending on the symptoms and when the ectopic pregnancy is discovered.

     3. Medication: If an ectopic pregnancy is discovered early enough without unstable bleeding, it can be treated with a medication called methotrexate. This medication, which is administered by injection does not only stop cell growth, but it also dissolves cells. However, after this medication your doctor will likely order for another HCG test to determine how well the treatment is working and whether or not you need more medications.

     4. Laparoscopic procedure: An ectopic pregnancy can also be treated with a laparoscopic surgery. During this procedure a small incision will be made in your abdomen, near or on your navel. Your doctor will then use a thin tube equipped with a camera lens and light to observe the tubal area. The ectopic tissue will then be removed, whereas your fallopian tube may be repaired or removed.

     5. An emergency surgery: If the ectopic pregnancy has advanced and is causing heavy bleeding, you might undergo an emergency surgery through an abdominal incision. During this surgery, your fallopian tube may be repaired or removed if its already ruptured.

Preventing ectopic pregnancy

You can’t really prevent an ectopic pregnancy, but there are a few things you can actually do to reduce the risk;

  • Avoid having many sex partners, so you do not contract sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia or gonorrhea.
  • Practice safe sex to prevent STDs, thereby reducing the risk of pelvic inflammation diseases, which are largely associated with ectopic pregnancy.
  • Quit smoking, especially if you are planning and trying to conceive.
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