Key points of ectopic pregnancy
- Ectopic pregnancy refers to the implantation of a fertilized egg outside the uterus instead of inside the uterus for a normal pregnancy.
- The majority of ectopic pregnancies occur in a fallopian tube, although they can also occur in other locations such as the cervix, abdomen or ovary.
- If left untreated, this abnormal pregnancy can lead to life-threatening complications, including rupture of the fallopian tube and internal bleeding.
- Ectopic pregnancies cannot be carried to term and require medical intervention through medication or surgery to terminate the pregnancy.
- Women who have experienced this type of pregnancy are at an increased risk of others in the future. Additionally, the condition can cause damage to the fallopian tubes, potentially leading to infertility.
- Research shows that about 65% of women who have had an ectopic pregnancy obtain a healthy pregnancy within 18 months, with higher chances observed over longer times.
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What is an ectopic pregnancy?
Ectopic pregnancy is a rare condition where the fertilized egg implants and grows outside of the uterus. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, approximately 1 out of every 50 pregnancies result in an ectopic pregnancy. About 95% of such pregnancies occur in one of the fallopian tubes. Other possible locations include the ovaries, the cervix and the abdomen.
When a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube (or anywhere rather than inside the uterus), it cannot grow and develop normally. The fallopian tube is not designed to support a pregnancy. As the fertilized egg develops into an embryo that grows, it can cause the fallopian tube to rupture. This can lead to internal bleeding and even death.
While rare, ectopic pregnancy can occur even with the use of contraceptive measures, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) or tubal ligation.
The chance of a woman having a successful pregnancy after an ectopic one is generally good. About 65% of women who have had an ectopic pregnancy will go on to have a successful pregnancy within 18 months. Some studies suggest this figure rises to around 85% over two years.
What causes ectopic pregnancy?
The cause of ectopic pregnancies isn’t always clear. They can occur due to factors such as damaged fallopian tubes, hormonal imbalances, previous pelvic infections or abnormalities in the reproductive system.
Who is affected by this condition?
Ectopic pregnancy can affect any woman, but it is more common in women who are over the age of 35. Women with an increased likelihood of this type of pregnancy include those who smoke and women with a history of pelvic surgery, pelvic inflammatory disease, previous ectopic pregnancies, or certain reproductive system abnormalities.
Ectopic pregnancy symptoms
The signs and symptoms of this condition can vary depending on the location of the pregnancy. Early signs may initially resemble those of a normal pregnancy, including missed periods, breast tenderness and nausea.
As the condition progresses, signs such as abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, shoulder pain, dizziness and fainting may indicate a potential ectopic pregnancy.
Risks and side effects if left untreated
If left untreated, this abnormal pregnancy can lead to serious complications, such as internal bleeding, damage to the fallopian tubes and loss of fertility. In some cases, it can lead to severe complications, such as rupture of the fallopian tube, which requires immediate medical attention.
While an ectopic pregnancy may increase the risk of others in the future, many women go on to have successful pregnancies after receiving appropriate treatment and care.
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Next steps: diagnosing & treating ectopic pregnancy
Diagnosis typically involves a combination of clinical assessment, medical history evaluation and diagnostic tests such as an abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound. This is to determine where the pregnancy is developing and evaluate internal bleeding.
Ectopic pregnancy treatment
This type of pregnancy cannot be carried to term or result in a live birth. Medical intervention is necessary to terminate this pregnancy, either through medication or surgery. The goal of treatment is to protect the woman’s health and prevent further complications.
In early stages and if the condition is stable, medication can be administered to stop the growth of the ectopic pregnancy and enable the body to reabsorb it. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores and liver damage. These side effects are usually mild and go away on their own within a few days.
In cases where the condition has advanced or if there is a risk of rupture, minimally invasive surgery is often necessary to remove the pregnancy and preserve reproductive health. As with any surgery, side effects can include pain, bleeding and infection.
With prompt diagnosis and appropriate medical care, we can minimize the risks associated with the condition and optimize future fertility prospects.