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August 31, 2018 | OB/GYN
During the early stages of pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants itself in the protective lining of the uterus and begins the growth process until birth. In one out of every 50 pregnancies, the fertilized egg implants anywhere but in the uterus—this is called an ectopic pregnancy. Most types of ectopic pregnancies are known as tubal pregnancies because the egg implants in the fallopian tubes. When this happens, the pregnancy must be treated because a fertilized egg cannot grow properly within the fallopian tubes as they are not designed to carry an embryo.
Ectopic pregnancies can be caused by a variety of things, including:
If you have had an ectopic pregnancy in the past, you are more likely to have one in the future. Abnormal development or hormonal imbalances can also cause the fertilized egg to implant in the wrong place. Without treatment, an ectopic pregnancy can result in a ruptured fallopian tube. This can lead to extensive bleeding that is life-threatening if not treated by a medical professional immediately.
Ectopic pregnancies are often hard to notice in the beginning. You may even feel the normal symptoms of pregnancy, such as nausea, breast tenderness or a missed period. Most ectopic pregnancies produce a positive pregnancy test, so it’s often difficult to adjust to the idea that the pregnancy is not viable and can be dangerous.
One of the first symptoms that women report with an ectopic pregnancy is light vaginal bleeding and pain in the pelvic area. Abdominal pain may start minor and worsen quickly, and you may feel pelvic discomfort or a sensation as if you need to have a bowel movement. If heavy bleeding starts and your abdomen and pelvis fill with blood, you may also have shoulder pain. The symptoms can vary as they are based on which nerves are irritated and where the blood pools. If you faint, go into shock, have severe pain in the abdomen or are extremely lightheaded, you are likely bleeding internally.
You should always see a doctor if you notice that you are faint or lightheaded regularly while pregnant, have abnormal vaginal bleeding or severe pelvic or abdominal pain. These are all symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, and fast treatment can reduce your pain and the danger you face if a fallopian tube ruptures.
While the chances of you having a second ectopic pregnancy are increased, you are still able to successfully carry a baby to term after a previous ectopic pregnancy. The situation is dependent on your medical history and why the egg implants in the wrong place, but if the fallopian tubes survive the pregnancy, you should have a 60 percent chance of getting pregnant again.
If you have had an ectopic pregnancy in the past or have questions about your current pregnancy, you should see your doctor immediately. Early treatment is key to keeping you safe and increasing your risk of having children in the future.
“Ectopic Pregnancy: Symptoms, Causes, Risks and Treatment.” American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/ectopic-pregnancy/
“Ectopic Pregnancy.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ectopic-pregnancy/symptoms-causes/syc-20372088
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.