Pregnancy can be a life changing experience for a woman. It means welcoming motherhood and entering into a new phase of life. As exciting and happy as this time may be, many women have concerns regarding pregnancy complications. Ectopic pregnancy is one such serious complication worth taking a look into.
What is Ectopic Pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. Almost all ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tube and are thus sometimes called tubal pregnancies. The fallopian tubes are not designed to hold a growing embryo; thus, the fertilized egg in a tubal pregnancy cannot develop properly and must be treated. About 2 percent or approximately 1 out of 50 pregnancies is ectopic.
What are the Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy?
After conception, the fertilized egg travels down one of your Fallopian tubes on its way to your uterus. If the tube is damaged or blocked and fails to propel the egg toward your womb, the egg may implant in the tube and continue to develop there.
Lets us look at few of the symptoms to look for to determine whether yours is a case of an ectopic pregnancy. Very early in the pregnancy, ectopic pregnancies have the same signs as that of any normal pregnancy.
Although one may experience the common symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea, missed period, breast tenderness, and fatigue, it is important to look for the following warning signs and symptoms that can indicate an ectopic pregnancy.
Signs of an Ectopic Pregnancy
- Sharp or stabbing pain that may come and go and vary in intensity. (The pain may be in the pelvis, abdomen, or even the shoulder and neck due to blood from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy gathering up under the diaphragm).
- Abdominal or pelvic pain or tenderness. You may feel it only on one side, but the pain can be anywhere in your abdomen or pelvis. It may be mild and intermittent early on, but it can also be sudden, persistent, and severe. It may be dull or sharp, and you may also have nausea and vomiting. You may find that the pain gets worse when you’re active or when you move your bowels or cough. If the Fallopian tube has ruptured, your abdomen may be distended and swollen.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Pain in your shoulder, especially when you lie down, is a red flag for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, and it’s critical to get medical attention immediately. The cause of the pain is internal bleeding, which irritates nerves that go to your shoulder area.
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting. The blood may be red or brown, like the color of dried blood, and it may be continuous or intermittent, heavy, or light.
- Signs of shock in case of a ruptured Fallopian tube. The resulting blood loss can make you go into shock. Look out for signs including weakness, nausea, dizziness, racing pulse, fainting, clammy skin
The symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy varies from woman to woman, however, the above mentioned ones are the most commonly occurring signs. It is also seen that many women do not experience any of the symptoms at all until the ectopic pregnancy ruptures. In case one does experience the symptoms, they have to taken seriously and get proper medical attention as soon as possible.
What causes an Ectopic Pregnancy?
Ectopic Pregnancies can be caused by one or more of the causes mentioned below. The cause of an ectopic pregnancy isn’t always clear. In some cases, the following conditions have been linked with an ectopic pregnancy:
- Previous Ectopic Pregnancy: There is an increased risk of a subsequent ectopic pregnancy after someone has experienced an ectopic pregnancy.
- Fertility Treatment: There is a chance of ectopic pregnancy resulting from embryo transfer during IVF treatment as embryos can travel into the Fallopian tube, for example, during the implantation stage.
- Older Age
- Inflammation and scarring of the Fallopian tubes from a previous medical condition, infection, or surgery
- Medical conditions that affect the shape and condition of the Fallopian tubes and reproductive organs
- Research by the University of Edinburgh showed that smokers have an increased level of the protein PROKR1 in their Fallopian tubes. The protein is instrumental in helping pregnancies implant in the womb, but when present in the Fallopian tubes can hinder the progress of a fertilised egg, increasing the chances of a pregnancy being ectopic.
- Hormonal factors
- Birth defects
- Genetic abnormalities
It is always best to talk to your doctor to get a more accurate diagnosis for your specific condition. It is important to remember that any woman of child bearing age is at risk of an ectopic pregnancy and often the reasons for such a pregnancy is not determined exactly.
How can Ectopic Pregnancy be Treated?
Ectopic pregnancies aren’t safe for the mother. Also, the embryo won’t be able to develop to term. It’s necessary to remove the embryo as soon as possible for the mother’s immediate health and long-term fertility. Treatment options vary depending on the location of the ectopic pregnancy and its development.
Medication: Your doctor may decide that immediate complications are unlikely. In this case, your doctor can prescribe several medications that could keep the ectopic mass from bursting. You should also get regular blood tests to ensure that the drug is effective. When effective, the drugs are likely to cause symptoms similar to a miscarriage.
You can experience cramping, bleeding, and passing of tissue. Further surgery is rarely required after this occurs. You must be prepared for the fact that you may not be able to get pregnant for several months after taking such medication.
Surgery: Many surgeons suggest removing the embryo and repairing any internal damage. This procedure is called a laparotomy. Your doctor will insert a small camera through a small incision to make sure they can see their work.
The surgeon removes the embryo and repairs any damage to the fallopian tube. If the surgery is unsuccessful, the surgeon may repeat a laparotomy, this time through a larger incision.
Your doctor may need to remove the fallopian tube during surgery if it’s damaged.
If the tube has become stretched or has ruptured and started bleeding, part or all of it may have to be removed. In this case, bleeding needs to be stopped promptly, and emergency surgery is necessary.
Life after an Ectopic Pregnancy
The chances of having a successful pregnancy after an ectopic pregnancy may be reduced, but this will depend on why the pregnancy was ectopic and your medical history. If the Fallopian tubes have been left in place, you have approximately a 60% chance of having a successful pregnancy in the future.
It is natural to feel devastated by your experience. It is not only a loss of a pregnancy, but also it may become more difficult for one to conceive again. In case you have had to undergo surgery, you will also be feeling exhausted and numb. You may also experience hormonal ups and downs which may leave you feeling depressed and emotionally vulnerable.
Remember that your partner too is coping with the loss. It is best for you both to recuperate from this experience emotionally and physically before trying to get pregnant again.