What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy (eccysis) is a pregnancy that does not implant inside the womb. The fertilized egg attaches elsewhere, most commonly in the Fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies have also been known to occur in the cervix, the ovary or the stomach area. The fetus cannot survive, and does not usually develop at all. If left untreated, the cellular growth could cause a rupture in the area, and is potentially fatal.
Causes for Ectopic Pregnancy:
The most common cause of ectopic pregnancies is a physical blockage of the Fallopian tubes, due either to hormonal or other factors. This blockage slows or completely prevents normal movement of the egg.
These factors include:
- Scarring caused by a past ectopic pregnancy
- Scarring from Fallopian tube surgery/pelvic surgery
- Infections in the Fallopian tubes
- Birth defects in the Fallopian tubes
- Ruptured appendix complications
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Salpingitis (Swelling of Fallopian tubes)
Risk Factors for Ectopic Pregnancy:
Being over the age of 35, smoking, and in vitro fertilization also increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. In some cases, a woman may become pregnant after a tubal ligation or while an IUD is in place. While it is very rare for pregnancies to occur under these conditions, an ectopic pregnancy is the usual outcome.
Signs and Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy:
The signs of an ectopic pregnancy resemble those of a normal pregnancy, and they include:
- Amenhorrhea (cessation of normal menstrual period)
- Abdominal pain
- Intermittent vaginal bleeding
- Other classic signs of pregnancy, such as nausea and breast tenderness, may also occur.
Signs of Ruptured Ectopic Pregnancy:
If an ectopic pregnancy ruptures, it can be potentially fatal to the woman.
Signs of this include:
- Almost passing out upon standing - this could be a sign of decreased blood pressure due to internal bleeding
These symptoms also resemble those of a miscarriage. Many women who do not know they have an ectopic pregnancy do not receive treatment until shock from blood loss has set in. At this point, it is a medical emergency.
Early Diagnosis of Ectopic Pregnancy:
The key to prevention of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and subsequent risk of the mother’s loss of life is early detection. Because an ectopic pregnancy resembles a uterine pregnancy, it is important to see a doctor as soon as pregnancy is suspected.
Testing for Ectopic Pregnancy:
- Pregnancy test - Abnormal hormone amounts can help diagnose an ectopic pregnancy
- Vaginal ultrasound
- Laparoscopy/Laparotomy - These procedures also remove the ectopic cells if it returns a positive result.
Treatment for Ectopic Pregnancy:
An ectopic pregnancy must be terminated, as it cannot be carried to full term. If the ectopic pregnancy is in danger of rupture, a surgical procedure may need to be performed. The three most common procedures are:
- Dilation and curettage (D&C) - the cervix is dilated and the ectopic pregnancy is surgically removed through the vagina
- Laparoscopy - a thin lighted tube is inserted through a small incision in the belly and the ectopic pregnancy is removed via the tube
- Laparotomy - a larger incision is made in the belly for the surgeon to access and remove the ectopic pregnancy
If the ectopic pregnancy is not in danger of rupture, a drug may be administered to stop the cellular growth and cause the body to expel the ectopic pregnancy on its own. The patient will be monitored throughout this process.
If rupture has occurred, then emergency surgery is needed to save the mother’s life. Blood transfusions, IV fluids and oxygen may also be administered.
Like miscarriage, a lost ectopic pregnancy is just that - a loss. If you have found yourself here because you or someone you know has had an ectopic pregnancy, please remember to be gentle and to be kind. Losses are devastating. Losses are real. Losses are meant to be grieved. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. If it is you has had the ectopic pregnancy, let us tell you that we are so very sorry for your loss.
For additional tips on how to help a friend, or yourself, through the loss of a pregnancy, go here.
Prognosis for Ectopic Pregnancy:
Most women who have an ectopic pregnancy can successfully have children. In some cases, such as a ruptured pregnancy where a Fallopian tube had to be removed, it can be very difficult to conceive again.
Resources for Ectopic Pregnancy:
Parents or other family members who have experienced the loss of a baby between conception and the first month of life can receive a free March of Dimes bereavement kit by contacting the Fulfillment Center at 1-800-367-6630 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust - a UK-based charitable organization that provides information, education, and support to those affected by ectopic pregnancies and the healthcare professionals who treat them.
Ectopic Pregnancy Foundation - The mission of this organization is to increase awareness and educate women and healthcare providers about ectopic pregnancies and to improve medical and emotional care for patients experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.
Grief Issues Special to Miscarriage – Miscarriage Support Aukland, Inc. is based in New Zealand and provides information specific to the grief surrounding miscarriages
Share – This organization provides mutual support for bereaved parents and families who have suffered a loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death. SHARE provides newsletters, pen pals, and information regarding professionals, caregivers, and pastoral care.
HopeXchange – Information, support, and hope after pregnancy loss.
Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy after Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss by Ann Douglas. This book provides information and advice to help you determine if you and your partner are emotionally ready to try for another pregnancy, as well as how to prepare and plan for that pregnancy once you've decided the time is right.