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Published

May 3, 2022

Updated

August 9, 2022

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

During an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus. Learn more in this article.

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The journey to pregnancy begins with a fertilized egg. Normally, the egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. During an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus. This is most commonly in one of the fallopian tubes, but occasionally implants in the cervix or abdomen. Ectopic pregnancies account for about 2% of all recognized pregnancies, or 1 in 50. In the case of ectopic pregnancies, the fertilized egg cannot survive, and the growing tissue, if left untreated can cause life-threatening bleeding. An ectopic pregnancy is suspected when a woman's pregnancy test is positive but the doctor can't find the fetus in her uterus. It is possible to detect an ectopic pregnancy earlier than you may think - it is usually between 5-6 weeks gestation. Unfortunately, many women will ignore the symptoms because they may not have realized that they are pregnant.

Symptoms

There are no specific symptoms associated with ectopic pregnancy in the early stages. In the early stages, the only signs that a woman is pregnant are missed periods, breast tenderness, and nausea, all of which are common in pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy will result in a positive pregnancy test, but cannot continue as a normal. As the fertilized egg grows, symptoms become more noticeable. Vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain are often the first signs of an ectopic pregnancy. If the leak is coming from the fallopian tube, you may noice an urge to have a bowel movement and shoulder pain.

When to see a doctor

Although most symptoms are mild, there are emergency cases in which you will need to seek medical attention. If the fertilized egg continue to grow in the fallopian tubes, it can cause the tube to rupture. This may result in life-threatening symptoms such as, extreme lightheadedness, shock, and fainting. You will want to seek help also if you experience any shoulder pain, severe pelvic or abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding.

Risk factors

Where ectopic pregnancies are concerned, many doctors will say that there is no known cause or specific reason as to why they happen. However, there are actually quite a few risk factors involved: Ectopic pregnancy is most often found in women of childbearing age (20 to 35 years old), but it can occur at any age. Women who have previously had an ectopic pregnancy have a greater risk of it happening again. Inflammation or infection caused by sexually transmitted infections can cause the tubes and nearby organs to be inflamed. Some studies show that women who have in vitro fertilization are more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy. Certain birth controls, like intrauterine devices (IUD) can cause ectopic pregnancy. Finally, smoking cigarettes just before pregnancy can increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy.

Prevention

Usually, there is little to do to prevent an ectopic pregnancy. There are certain things that can increase the risk of it happening. Limiting the number of sexual partners can help prevent the transmission of STIs, and may reduce the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, also before planning on getting pregnant quit smoking.

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