During normal pregnancies, the fertilized egg is rooted firmly inside the woman’s uterus, but that is not the case with an ectopic pregnancy. During an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg roots itself to the inside of the fallopian tube, never making it to the uterus. The egg may also be found inside one of the ovaries, the abdomen, or even inside the cervix. As you may have guessed, these places are not equipped to nourish and support a growing fetus, so this is a major problem. Overtime, the egg/fetus will become so large that it damages or bursts the surrounding organs, which could be fatal to the expectant mother. Very few ectopic pregnancies are viable, and most require fast medical intervention to protect the health of the mother.
Many women often overlook the warning signs of ectopic pregnancy, because they closely resemble other symptoms commonly experienced during the early months of pregnancy. In fact, many women don’t even seek medical attention for an ectopic pregnancy until they start having pain or bleeding. The earliest symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are often vaginal spotting, pain in the lower back, fainting or dizzy spells, or unusually low blood pressure.
In some cases, ectopic pregnancy can be caused by underlying medical conditions, such as Endometriosis, or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. In some cases, undiagnosed birth defects or injuries may also block the eggs path into the uterus, leading to ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancy isn’t always easy for medical practitioners to diagnose. If you go into your doctor’s office or local hospital complaining of pregnancy related pain that may be linked with ectopic pregnancy, the first thing that will be done is an HCG test. Doctors can use your due date and the results of this test to tell if your pregnancy is developing normally, and will likely repeat the test at least once a week if ectopic pregnancy is suspected. Ultrasound may also be used, but may not be very helpful if you aren’t at least 6 weeks into your pregnancy.
If you are diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, the treatment will vary, depending on many different factors. If diagnosed early enough, you may be given a shot of a medication called Methotrexate, which will dissolve the misplaced egg, minimizing damage to your reproductive organs, and hopefully, not affecting your chances of conception in the future.
For more advanced pregnancies, surgery is usually the only way to take care of an ectopic pregnancy. This will be done in the hospital, and will require close monitoring for at least 3 months after the procedure, to be certain that no tissue was missed that could cause infection. If you do end up having to go this route, your fertility may be impaired, as it is in approximately 30% of ectopic surgical procedures. Once you have an ectopic pregnancy, you are much more likely to have another one, should you become pregnant again. If you decide that you still want to conceive, your OB/GYN can closely monitor you, and make suggestions to help you have a healthy pregnancy.
By communicating with your doctor, learning about ectopic pregnancy signs and symptoms, and being aware of your body, you can go a long way towards having a healthy pregnancy, and preserving your fertility, should you choose to have other children in the future!