It’s likely you know how pregnancy works: the ovary releases an egg into the fallopian tube, where it stays for roughly 24 hours. There it comes into contact with the sperm to be fertilised. The fertilised egg stays in the fallopian tube for another 3 to 5 days before it makes its way to the uterus where it attaches to the uterine lining. This is where your baby grows.
An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilised egg implants outside the uterus, usually in your fallopian tube or somewhere else in the abdomen.
An ectopic pregnancy, while not particularly common, can be serious if left untreated, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms. Read more about the conditions below.
Early detection of an ectopic pregnancy is very important and can prevent serious medical complications and permanent damage to the fallopian tube or where the egg has implanted.
If any of the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy present, it should be considered an emergency and will require immediate treatment. Around one or two in every 100 pregnancies are ectopic.
Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy
The signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may be similar to those of pregnancy, miscarriage, and reproductive disorders like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or endometriosis. Most of these occur between the fourth and tenth weeks of pregnancy.
• Mild vaginal bleeding
• Stabbing pains or cramps in the pelvis/abdomen. These may vary in intensity.
• Nausea and vomiting.
• In some cases, the fallopian tube may rupture, causing sudden severe pain in the lower abdomen.
What Are The Causes and Risk Factors For Ectopic Pregnancy
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilised egg has trouble travelling down the fallopian tube and into the uterus, so it implants in the tube or elsewhere. This may be due to damage to the tube, or the small hairs inside, which are responsible for pushing the egg towards the uterus, not functioning as the should.
Risk factors for an ectopic pregnancy include:
• Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
• Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
• Damage to the fallopian tubes from previous pelvic surgeries (such as a caesarean, or surgery for ovarian cysts or a ruptured appendix).
• A history of ectopic pregnancy
How Is An Ectopic Pregnancy Diagnosed and Treated?
As many of the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are similar to those of other disorders, it can be difficult to diagnose. The process will usually involve a pregnancy test, pelvic exam, ultrasound or blood tests.
Treatment involves either stopping the egg from developing to avoid further complications, or removing the tissue completely.
If it is detected early, and the egg has not developed very much, you may be given medication called methotrexate to stop the egg developing. Your body will them simply absorb the pregnancy issue.
In more developed cases, laparoscopic surgery may be required. This involves your doctor making very small incisions in your lower abdomen and inserting a thin, flexible instrument called a laparoscope to remove the tissue.
If the fallopian tube is damaged, it may need to be removed too. In serious cases, such as if the fallopian tube has ruptured, emergency surgery will be required, which may require larger incisions to be made. This procedure is called a laparotomy.
What Does This Mean For Future Pregnancies?
If you’ve had an ectopic pregnancy, there is a good chance that you will be able to have a successful pregnancy again. However, it may be harder, either due to the underlying condition that caused the first one, or as a result of the treatment required.
Be sure to talk to your gynaecologist or a fertility specialist about your plans for future pregnancies.
If you have any questions regarding an ectopic pregnancy, pregnancy concerns, fertility, or any other OBGYN issues, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Dr Brown is one the most trusted gynaecologists and obstetricians in Sydney, and will strive to provide advice and compassionate care in every way possible.
If you are presenting any serious symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, be sure to contact emergency medical services or see your doctor right away.