An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fetus begins to form outside of the womb. It’s a pregnancy that happens anywhere except inside the uterus where it’s supposed to happen. An ectopic pregnancy is life-threatening for the mother and cannot support the full-term growth of the baby.
Commonly, a fertilized egg travels to the womb, or uterus, through the fallopian tube. Sometimes, the egg becomes blocked for some reason and cannot continue along the path. Left untreated, the tissue that begins to grow from the egg can cause damage to surrounding organs, leaving you infertile. Severe blood loss can lead to death. Early intervention is vital to prevent further damage. Any signs or symptoms should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan as it may be a symptom or sign of a serious illness or condition.
Ectopic Pregnancy Statistics
Ectopic pregnancies occur in about one in 50 pregnancies, representing about two percent of all pregnancies nationwide, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Of all pregnancies that lead to death, nearly nine percent are caused by ectopic pregnancies.
An ectopic pregnancy doesn’t have to mean that future endeavors to conceive won’t succeed. Close to 33 percent of women who’ve had an ectopic pregnancy at some point in their lives go on to have a normal pregnancy and healthy delivery at a later time. But if you’ve had an ectopic pregnancy, your risk of having another one increases nine times over women who’ve never had one.
Risks play into the ectopic pregnancy statistics as well because having an appendectomy doubles the chances that you’ll have an ectopic pregnancy. You also are at a greater risk if you’re over the age of 35 or under the age of 20.
Most of the time, an ectopic pregnancy occurs in the fallopian tubes, which is why an ectopic pregnancy often is referred to as a tubal pregnancy. Though less common, an ectopic pregnancy also can occur in the cervix, which is the neck of the uterus, or in the ovaries or abdominal cavity.
A heterotopic pregnancy happens when you have a normal pregnancy and an ectopic pregnancy at the same time. Very uncommon in natural forms of conception, heterotopic pregnancies usually occur after some level of assisted fertilization. Heterotopic pregnancy sometimes is also referred to as combined ectopic pregnancy, coincident pregnancy or multiple-sited pregnancy.
Causes Range Widely
Many ectopic pregnancies occur because the fallopian tubes are damaged or misshapen somehow, causing the egg to get stuck. Hormone imbalances, usually difficult to detect, also are a major cause of ectopic pregnancies. Other conditions that can contribute to such an ill-fated pregnancy include:
- Having a previous tubal pregnancy
- Scarring after you’ve had an appendectomy
- Birth defects that left your fallopian tubes damaged
- Signs of pregnancy with IUD (and getting pregnant while it’s still in place)
- Following a tubal ligation (that obviously didn’t hold)
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Trying certain fertility treatments
- Smoking just prior to conceiving
Know the Symptoms
Ectopic pregnancy pain usually begins with common symptoms you get from a regular pregnancy such as nausea in the mornings and tenderness in your breasts. All signs and symptoms should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan as it may be a symptom or sign of a serious illness or condition. You’ll stop having your period and may experience one or more of the following symptoms, indicating problems:
- Ectopic pregnancy bleeding from your vagina
- Varying pain locations from your pelvis and abdomen to your lower back
When fallopian tube pain increases, it may indicate that a rupture has taken place. Signs that you need immediate emergency medical attention include:
- Falling blood pressure
- Pain in your shoulders
- Feeling faint or actually fainting
- Intense rectal pressure
- Sharp, severe and sudden pressure and pain in your lower belly area
The consequences of a rupture are life threatening because it’s caused by excessive blood loss.
The first step in diagnosing an ectopic pregnancy is through a pelvic exam where your doctor looks for inappropriate pain and tenderness. Sometimes, the tubal pregnancy can be felt in the fallopian tubes as it grows. Sometimes, an ultrasound can confirm the presence of a growing embryo outside the uterus.
During testing, your hormone levels are checked for abnormalities, since your human chorionic gonadtropin (or hCG) levels usually are lower if you have an ectopic pregnancy. Higher than normal progesterone levels also may indicate the presence of an abnormal pregnancy.
A more invasive test called a culdocentesis is a procedure where the doctor inserts a needle near the top of your vagina, just in front of your rectum and behind the uterus. If blood appears, that could indicate a ruptured fallopian tube as a result of an ectopic pregnancy.
Early treatment is best for your overall health and for recovering as much of your reproductive organs as possible and early diagnosis and treatment by your physician is crucial. Methotrexate is the most common medication used to treat an ectopic pregnancy. In a methotrexate ectopic pregnancy abortion, your body simply absorbs the egg and pregnancy tissue. It’s vital that your doctor be absolutely sure that you have an ectopic pregnancy before delivering a dose of methotrexate.
A safer method to treat ectopic pregnancy that’s caught early is laparoscopic surgery. It begins with a tiny incision in your abdomen near your navel. Your doctor then relies on a thin tube equipped with a camera to view the entire tube and uterus. If found, the ectopic tissue can safely be removed through the incision. Your fallopian tubes, if damaged, also can be removed at this time.
If you experience heavy bleeding, you may have to undergo a laparotomy, which involves a larger incision through which the surgeon can remove the ectopic tissue and any damaged fallopian tubes. Heavy bleeding can lead to shock if not treated immediately with:
- Raised legs
- Keeping you warm
- Blood transfusions
Recovery time following an emergency laparotomy can last as long as six weeks. If your tubes and uterus weren’t removed during the surgery, you may be able to conceive again successfully. To increase your chances of a successful pregnancy next time:
- Practice safe, monogamous sex
- Stop smoking
- Get tested early for possible STDs that could damage your fallopian tubes
- Reduce risk of pelvic inflammatory disease by using a condom
- See your OBGYN early when you suspect that you are pregnant
Keep regular appointments to check your and your baby’s progress throughout your pregnancy
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide gynecology guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult obgyn NYC doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified gynecologist or certified gynecology specialist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have questions about Ectopic Pregnancy? Would like to schedule an appointment with the top rated OBGYN in NYC, Dr. Pedram Bral, please contact our office.
Dr. Pedram Bral, Gynecologist (Gynecologist NYC, Midtown)
New York, NY10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 533-4575