What is an ectopic pregnancy?
From fertilization to delivery, pregnancy requires a number of steps in a woman’s body. One of these steps is when a fertilized egg travels to the uterus to attach itself. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg doesn’t attach to the uterus. Instead, it may attach to the fallopian tube, abdominal cavity, or cervix.
While a pregnancy test may reveal a woman is pregnant, a fertilized egg can’t properly grow anywhere other than the uterus. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), ectopic pregnancies occur in about 1 out of every 50 pregnancies (20 out of 1,000).
An untreated ectopic pregnancy can be a medical emergency. Prompt treatment reduces your risk of complications from the ectopic pregnancy, increases your chances for future, healthy pregnancies, and reduces future health complications.
What causes an ectopic pregnancy?
The cause of an ectopic pregnancy isn’t always clear. In some cases, the following conditions have been linked with an ectopic pregnancy:
- inflammation and scarring of the fallopian tubes from a previous medical condition, infection, or surgery
- hormonal factors
- genetic abnormalities
- birth defects
- medical conditions that affect the shape and condition of the fallopian tubes and reproductive organs
Your doctor may be able to give you more specific information about your condition.
Who is at risk for an ectopic pregnancy?
All sexually active women are at some risk for an ectopic pregnancy. Risk factors increase with any of the following:
- maternal age of 35 years or older
- history of pelvic surgery, abdominal surgery, or multiple abortions
- history of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- history of endometriosis
- conception occurred despite tubal ligation or intrauterine device (IUD)
- conception aided by fertility drugs or procedures
- history of ectopic pregnancy
- history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea or chlamydia
- having structural abnormalities in the fallopian tubes that make it hard for the egg to travel
If you have any of the above risk factors, talk to your doctor. You can work with your doctor or a fertility specialist to minimize the risks for future ectopic pregnancies.
What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?
Nausea and breast soreness are common symptoms in both ectopic and uterine pregnancies. The following symptoms are more common in an ectopic pregnancy and can indicate a medical emergency:
- sharp waves of pain in the abdomen, pelvis, shoulder, or neck
- severe pain that occurs on one side of the abdomen
- light to heavy vaginal spotting or bleeding
- dizziness or fainting
- rectal pressure
You should contact your doctor or seek immediate treatment if you know that you’re pregnant and have any of these symptoms.