An ectopic pregnancy is a complication of pregnancy in which a fertilized egg attaches itself outside the uterus, most often in one of the fallopian tubes (tubal pregnancy). Cases of an embryo attaching itself to other locations in the abdomen such as an ovary or cervix are very rare and nearly 98% of all cases are tubal pregnancies. This pregnancy complication occurs in every 1 out of 50 pregnant women.
Attachment of an embryo outside the uterine cavity does not cause any symptoms and many woman with this complication of pregnancy are unaware of it. As it progresses it causes all the classic pregnancy symptoms such as a missed period, morning sickness, breast tenderness, etc. including a positive pregnancy test result. However, ectopic pregnancy cannot continue normally and symptoms that reveal that there is a problem occur relatively early. They most often include:
– light bleeding
– pain in the lower abdomen
– abdominal cramping and pain on one side of the body
If left untreated, it can lead to rupture of the fallopian tube which in turn causes severe pain in the abdomen and even shoulder and neck, dizziness and fainting. Rupture of the fallopian tube is a medical emergency and it is necessary to seek medical attention immediately if experiencing the mentioned symptoms because the internal bleeding can be severe enough to cause death.
Why a fertilized egg attaches itself outside the uterus is not exactly understood and there are no sure ways to prevent this pregnancy complication. Several factors, however, have been associated with increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. They include a history of this type of pregnancy complication, sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease, abnormalities of the fallopian tube, use of intrauterine device as a birth control method at the time of conception and some infertility treatments. However, it can also occur in women who do not have any of the mentioned risk factors.
A fertilized egg cannot survive outside the uterine cavity and needs to be removed in order to prevent a potentially life-threatening internal bleeding and infertility. There are several treatment options, while the choice of a treatment depends from one case to another. If detected early, a drug (methotrexate) can be injected to block the cell growth and dissolve the ectopic tissue. Another treatment option is removal of the ectopic tissue (and the fallopian tube if severely damaged) with a surgical procedure known as laparoscopic surgery. Ruptured fallopian tube requires emergency surgery involving a large incision through the abdomen known as laparotomy.
You can still get pregnant and have a normal pregnancy after the surgery even if the fallopian tube has been damaged or removed. But before you try to get pregnant again, please consult with your doctor about the timing because it is recommendable to wait a certain time period after removal of the ectopic tissue. How long you will need to wait depends on several factors but in general, you may try to conceive again after 3 to 6 months. In case if both your fallopian tubes were damaged or removed, in vitro fertilization is an option to give birth to a biological child.