Ectopic means “out of place.” 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.
In most ectopic pregnancies, the egg settles in the fallopian tubes. This is why ectopic pregnancies are commonly called “tubal pregnancies.” The egg can also implant in the ovary, abdomen, or the cervix, so you also might see these referred to as cervical or abdominal pregnancies. None of these areas has as much space or nurturing tissue as a uterus for a pregnancy to develop. As the fetus grows, it will eventually burst the organ that contains it.
Causes of Ectopic Pregnancy
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Previous surgery in the pelvic area or on the tubes can cause adhesions
- An infection or inflammation of the fallopian tube can cause it to become partially or entirely blocked
- Had a previous ectopic pregnancy
- Aged 40 or above
- Use of an intrauterine device (IUD)
Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy
- Pelvic or belly pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Weakness, dizziness, or fainting
For an early ectopic pregnancy that appears to be naturally miscarrying (aborting) on its own, you may not need treatment. Your doctor will regularly test your blood to make sure that your pregnancy hormone (hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin) levels are dropping. This is called expectant management. Methotrexate may be given, which allows the body to absorb the pregnancy tissue and may save the fallopian tube, depending on how far the pregnancy has developed. If hCG levels do not drop or bleeding does not stop after taking methotrexate, your next step may be surgery. Avoid smoking if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.