An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo implants outside of its normal location within the endometrial lining of the uterus. The most common site for an ectopic pregnancy to occur is inside of the fallopian tubes that connect the uterus and ovaries. When this occurs, the ectopic pregnancy is also sometimes called a “tubal pregnancy.” In less common cases, ectopic pregnancies can implant in other areas, such as in the cervix, on top of the ovary or in the pelvic area outside of the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition to the pregnant woman. A pregnancy outside of the uterus is not viable; it is not possible to carry the pregnancy to term. It is estimated that about 1 to 2 percent of pregnancies are ectopic.
A woman with an ectopic pregnancy may experience the typical symptoms of early pregnancy, such as nausea or “morning sickness” and breast tenderness due to hormone changes. In some cases, she may not experience these symptoms or realize that she is pregnant. Other possible symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include pelvic cramping, especially if it is on one side only, cessation of menstruation, abdominal pain, low back pain or pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding that is not associated with menstruation.
One complication of an ectopic pregnancy, especially a tubal pregnancy, is internal bleeding. If the early embryo continues to develop inside of the fallopian tube, it can cause the fallopian tube to rupture. Internal bleeding can cause sudden pain or pressure in the pelvic area, fainting and low blood pressure. Emergency medical treatment is required to treat the patient in shock.
Treatment for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy include surgery to stop the internal bleeding, remove the embryonic cells and repair structural damage or remove the fallopian tube if necessary. If an ectopic pregnancy is detected but it has not ruptured yet, a less invasive surgery can be used to remove the embryo before it causes a rupture to occur.
If a woman has had an ectopic pregnancy, she may be able to have a normal pregnancy in the future. However, some ectopic pregnancies can either cause damage to the reproductive system or an underlying condition can contribute to infertility. Some conditions that have been tied to the development of ectopic pregnancies include scarring in the fallopian tubes from surgery or infections, a congenital fallopian tube defect and endometriosis. Getting pregnant while using an intrauterine device (IUD) as contraception, undergoing in vitro fertilization and having a reversed tubal ligation are also thought to contribute to the risk of developing an ectopic pregnancy.