An ectopic pregnancy is any pregnancy that implants outside the uterus. During a normal pregnancy, an egg becomes fertilized by sperm inside the Fallopian tube. The fertilized egg travels down through the Fallopian tube and into the uterus, where it implants on the inside wall.
In most cases, an ectopic pregnancy takes place in a Fallopian tube where a fertilized egg becomes trapped and implants there. Although rarer, an ectopic pregnancy can also occur in other places such as on an ovary, within the cervix, or in the abdomen.
Indicators of ectopic pregnancy
If you have any of the following symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, call your doctor right away:
An ectopic pregnancy can become a serious, life-threatening medical emergency if it’s not diagnosed and treated early. Your Fallopian tube can rupture from the growing embryo, resulting in severe pain, uncontrolled internal bleeding, and shock.
While the cause of an ectopic pregnancy is often unknown, it tends to occur when the Fallopian tube has become damaged in some way — from a previous infection, endometriosis, tubal surgery, or even a previous ectopic pregnancy. Scar tissue that is partially blocking the inside of the Fallopian tube can trap the fertilized egg, resulting in an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy may also be a very rare complication of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Diagnostic testing for ectopic pregnancy
Your medical history and a pelvic exam are helpful in diagnosing ectopic pregnancy. Additionally, you may need one or more of the following tests:
Treatment for ectopic pregnancy
Your treatment will depend on how early your physician discovers the ectopic pregnancy. If you’re in a lot of pain and have heavy internal bleeding, you will likely need emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. The surgery may involve either removing the embryo from your tube or removing the segment of the tube containing the embryo.
If a physician discovers the ectopic pregnancy early before the embryo has grown large enough to rupture your Fallopian tube, an injection of a medication called methotrexate may be an option. Methotrexate prevents the rapid division of cells in early pregnancy, thereby ending the pregnancy.