What is ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo implants outside of the uterus. In normal conception, a sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg in the fallopian tube. The embryo then travels through the tube and reaches the uterus three to four days later where it will implant and grow.

If the fallopian tube is blocked or damaged, the fertilized egg may implant in the lining of the tube, resulting in an ectopic pregnancy. The fallopian tube cannot support the growing embryo and after several weeks the tube may rupture and bleed, resulting in a potentially serious situation.

Ectopic pregnancies can occur in the cervix, ovary or within the abdomen, though 95%of ectopic pregnancies implant in the fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancies must usually be terminated to avoid more serious complications.

Causes of ectopic pregnancies

Ectopic pregnancy is caused by a blockage in the fallopian tube which prevents the fertilized egg from reaching the uterus.

You may be at risk for ectopic pregnancy if you:

  • Have endometriosis 
  • Have a history of STDs
  • Have had pelvic surgery
  • Previous history of ectopic pregnancy.
  • Use of an intra-uterine contraceptive device (IUCD)

Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy

There are often no symptoms of ectopic pregnancy. Doctors discover ectopic pregnancies via blood tests and ultrasound. In some diagnoses of ectopic pregnancy, women do not know they are pregnant and in some cases must have emergency medical treatment because the pregnancy has developed too long in the fallopian tube.

Treatment for ectopic pregnancy

  1. Doctors will monitor the ectopic pregnancy to see if it terminates naturally without surgery or other treatment. 
  2. Drugs (Methotrexate) can be delivered by injection to stop the pregnancy.
  3. Laparoscopic surgery to remove the pregnancy (or the tube itself if necessary).
  4. Laparotomy surgery to remove the pregnancy (usually in emergency or bledding situations) 

Complications of ectopic pregnancy

Even with treatment, an ectopic pregnancy may cause the woman’s fallopian tube to tear, which can be life threatening. Symptoms of blood in the abdomen may cause pelvic, stomach, or right shoulder tip pain. These kinds of tubal tears require emergency surgery.