8 Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy

8 Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy

Sinead Carey |Jul 26, 2022

Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be an exciting and life-changing event in a person’s life. However, it also comes with many risks and challenges. So, while focusing on the positive aspects of the process is important, you need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of possible complications, such as the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an ectopic pregnancy should be considered an emergency and is one of the leading causes of maternal death in the first trimester. Though the occurrence can be difficult to measure, the March of Dimes estimates that 1 in 50 pregnancies in the U.S. is ectopic. Considering that just under 4 million babies are born in the U.S. each year, this is a significant number of people suffering from it.

Though this is something no one wants to think about, recognizing the signs of an ectopic pregnancy can mean the difference between life and death.

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

The word ectopic means “out of place.” Therefore, an ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg forms in the wrong place — in other words, outside of the womb. Most ectopic pregnancies are defined as “tubular” because more than 90% of ectopic cases happen in the fallopian tubes.

In a normal pregnancy, the sperm and egg meet, become fertilized and travel down to attach to the lining of your womb. This is where your baby will grow for nine months. In a tubular pregnancy, the fertilized egg attaches to the fallopian tube before it manages to reach the womb. It is also possible for an ectopic pregnancy to occur in the ovary, cervix or even somewhere else in your belly.

The problem is that these areas don’t have space or the environment to promote your baby’s growth. As a result, an ectopic pregnancy can cause heavy bleeding or a burst fallopian tube, which is potentially fatal to the mother. The unfortunate truth is that all ectopic pregnancies are non-viable and end in the loss of the pregnancy.

8 Signs of an Ectopic Pregnancy

In some cases of ectopic pregnancy, the mother may not be aware that they are pregnant. However, signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy can start the same as signs of a normal pregnancy, so it is vital to be aware of them.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding.
  • Sudden pain in the abdomen or pelvis.
  • Cramping pains in the pelvis.
  • Lower back pain.
  • Tender breasts.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dizziness and fainting spells.
  • Shoulder pain.

Causes and Risk Factors

It is still not known why some people suffer from ectopic pregnancies and others don’t. However, there are many risk factors known to increase your chances of having an ectopic pregnancy.

Risk factors:

  • Aged 35 years or older.
  • Smoker.
  • Previous ectopic pregnancy.
  • Fertility treatments, such as IVF.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Scarring from prior pelvic surgery.
  • Fertility drugs to treat infertility.
  • Pregnancy while using an intrauterine device (IUD).

Treatments Options

There are two main approaches to the treatment of an ectopic pregnancy.

Medication

This form of treatment is less common and can only be done in certain situations. However, as an ectopic pregnancy is potentially fatal, it often requires rapid and comprehensive treatment. Medication can be effective if it is caught before the pregnancy is too far along. Your doctor will also ensure that there has been no rupture or immediate risk of a rupture.

The primary medication used to treat ectopic pregnancies is methotrexate. This drug works by stopping the cells from growing. Your body will absorb the pregnancy over the course of a few weeks, and it does not require any surgery if it is successful.

Surgery

More often than not, emergency surgery is required. For example, in the event that your tube has ruptured, you will be required to undergo immediate surgery. This type of surgery is usually done laparoscopically, which is another word for keyhole surgery.

The ectopic pregnancy is removed during surgery. In some cases, it may also be necessary to remove the ruptured fallopian tube.

How to Seek Medical Help

The main takeaway from this is that an ectopic pregnancy is an emergency, life-threatening situation. All of the symptoms listed above are cause for concern. If you experience severe, sudden abdominal pain accompanied by vaginal bleeding, dizziness or shoulder pain, you should seek help immediately. Likewise, if you suspect you may have an ectopic pregnancy, you should go to the emergency room without delay.

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