An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube. As the pregnancy sac grows, it will often cause a rupture, which can lead to bleeding and shock. For this reason, ectopic pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition.
In most pregnancies, the fertilized egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus, where it then implants and develops until birth. But in some cases, if the fallopian tube is scarred or unable to move the fertilized egg along, an ectopic pregnancy may result.
Structural problems of the fallopian tube, such as birth defects, endometriosis, tubal ligation, or scarring after a ruptured appendix or past surgery, can lead to ectopic pregnancy. Infections, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or a tubo-ovarian abscess (TOA), can also cause the kind of scarring that leads to ectopic pregnancy. Other factors that increase the risk for ectopic pregnancy include:
- Having had an ectopic pregnancy in the past
- Being over the age of 35
- Getting pregnant while having an intrauterine device (IUD)
- Having had many sexual partners
- Some infertility treatments
Ectopic pregnancy can cause some normal early pregnancy symptoms, such as breast tenderness or nausea. It may also cause:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Low back pain
- Mild cramping in the pelvis
- No periods
- Pain in the lower belly or pelvic area
If an ectopic pregnancy causes bleeding or rupture to the surrounding area, symptoms may become more severe. They can include:
- Fainting or feeling faint
- Intense pressure in the rectum
- Low blood pressure
- Pain in the shoulder area
- Severe, sharp, and sudden pain in the lower abdomen
Unfortunately, the only treatment currently available for ectopic pregnancy is to terminate the pregnancy with medication or surgery. An ectopic pregnancy that is allowed to continue can kill both mother and child. Your provider will help you decide what option is best for you given your symptoms and history.
Approximately one in three women who have had an ectopic pregnancy will be able to have a baby later, but the chances of having another ectopic pregnancy is increased compared to women without a history of an ectopic pregnancy.