Ectopic Pregnancy: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

In most cases, your body knows what to do after fertilization of the egg, transitioning to pregnancy on its own. But sometimes, there are cases when the natural course of action goes the wrong way. This is what happens during an ectopic pregnancy, causing an emergency condition for the pregnant woman. Although only 2 % of all pregnancies turn out to be ectopic, it is still better to be aware of the signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy beforehand.

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

In a normal pregnancy, conception happens when the fertilized egg is implanted in your uterus. This does not happen in an ectopic pregnancy, instead, the egg is implanted outside of the uterus. The most common places that the egg may attach are the fallopian tube, the cervix or even your abdominal cavity.

Even if your pregnancy test reveals a positive sign, it is not a positive thing in case of an ectopic pregnancy. Your body cannot sustain a pregnancy anywhere outside of the womb and such pregnancy will inevitably end. If you don’t get the ectopic pregnancy treatments in time, it will be a medical emergency that might cause complications for your future pregnancies too. 

How ectopic pregnancy is different from a normal one

What are ectopic pregnancy causes?

There many things about pregnancy and how reproduction works that are still unknown to everyone. The reasons for ectopic pregnancy are also not fully known. But here are some ectopic pregnancy causes that are most likely to be involved with the problem:

  1. Hormonal shifts or imbalances in the body that affect your conception in different ways.
  2. If you have any genetic abnormalities that are hidden or have been unknown to you previously. 
  3. Any inflammation or scarring in the fallopian tubes can be a cause for ectopic pregnancy. This state of the fallopian tube can be due to previous infections, medical conditions or surgical treatments.
  4. Many women grow up with conditions that can be categorised under birth defects that cause hindrance for a normal pregnancy.
  5. Although rare, some women also have medical conditions that alter the shape and condition of their reproductive organs, including the fallopian tubes. 

If you have an ectopic pregnancy, you can find a more specific reason for it by consulting the gynaecologist.

What are the signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy?

Like many early signs of pregnancy, you also have a missed period, tiredness, morning sickness and sensitive breasts during an ectopic pregnancy. Since these symptoms are so similar, you might not know something is wrong at the start, therefore you need to look for other more distinct ones. Here are some of the more specific symptoms that indicate your pregnancy is an ectopic one:

  • Having severe pains in the lower abdomen area, especially on one side.
  • Light or heavy spotting or bleeding from the vagina.
  • Sudden pain in shoulders, pelvis region or your neck. 
  • Feeling a lot of weakness, dizziness and even fainting because of it.
  • Feeling increased rectal pressure. 

In a serious situation, this type of pregnancy can also cause a rupture of your fallopian tube. You will feel a lot of pain with or without vaginal bleeding then, so make sure that you go to the doctor as soon as you identify any of these symptoms. Pregnancy is a delicate time and you don’t want to take any chances with it. It is better to be fully vigilant at all times instead of missing on such crucial signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy.

Women showing one of the signs of ectopic pregnancy

Who all are at risk of having an ectopic pregnancy?

Since the causes of ectopic pregnancy are not very specific and can be found in sexually active women without any prior warning, it is often difficult to pinpoint people who are at risk. But after many studies, trends have been found linking likeliness of the following women to have an ectopic pregnancy:

  1. Women who are trying to get pregnant after the 30s or at a later age.
  2. Women who have had an ectopic pregnancy before are more likely to have it again.
  3. If you have had pelvic surgery, abdominal surgery or had multiple abortions in the past.
  4. Those with a current or past smoking habit are more at risk.
  5. If you use fertility treatments or drugs for getting pregnant, it increases your chances of having an ectopic pregnancy.
  6. People who have a history of either pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis are at a higher risk.
  7. Women who have Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) like gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
  8. Women who have any abnormalities in the structure of the fallopian tube that makes it harder for the fertilized egg to move and be implanted in the correct place. 

How do I know if I have an ectopic pregnancy?

The easiest way to know whether you have an ectopic pregnancy is to consult with your gynaecologist as soon as you get a hint of the signs of ectopic pregnancy. Any symptoms and discomforts that seem out of the norm for a normal pregnancy should be taken seriously. 

To be sure, your doctor will most likely have a transvaginal ultrasound done. In this procedure, they will check whether you have a gestational sac in the uterus and if not, that means you have an ectopic pregnancy. Other tests to confirm this type of pregnancy are blood tests that will show decreasing levels of pregnancy hormones in such cases.

If you go to the doctor in the last stages when your fallopian tube ruptures, then it is treated as medical emergency procedures and no such tests are done. 

What are the best ectopic pregnancy treatments?

Once you thoroughly understand ectopic pregnancy causes and get diagnosed, the obvious next step is to look into the treatment methods. It can be difficult to know that even though you are pregnant, it is not a pregnancy that can be nurtured by your body. Getting the best treatments and care is very important here. 

  • Medicinal ectopic pregnancy treatment
    In the medicinal treatment, the doctor gives you shots of methotrexate, a drug that stops the growth of the embryo implanted in your fallopian tube. The cells that have already grown by the time you start medication are absorbed back in the body without any damage to your fallopian tube. 
  • Surgery ectopic pregnancy treatment
    By the use of a surgical method called laparoscopy, the embryo is removed from your body. Although it is the most common treatment for ectopic pregnancy practised worldwide, there are chances of your fallopian tube getting scared or getting altered in a way that might hinder future pregnancies. 

Whatever the type of treatment it may be, the decision will be made only after you discuss what’s best for you with the doctor.

Women getting ectopic pregnancy treatment at the hospital

Having an ectopic pregnancy and getting it treated is like having a miscarriage. You lose your pregnancy one way or the other, even if you don’t want that. Many women feel it is like an illusion of happiness that is doomed from the start. It is normal to feel grief, shock, relief or a mixture of all of these at a time like this. It is not your fault and certainly not something you could have prevented if you had no previous warnings about it. You can certainly get help from your doctor, support from family and friends to deal with this loss and get your life back on track.

FAQs about Ectopic Pregnancy

Q1. How can I prevent an ectopic pregnancy?

Ans- There is no definitive way to prevent or predict an ectopic pregnancy but you may be able to decrease your chances of having it by following good reproductive health practices. Here are some of the pointers that might benefit you:

  1. Do not have multiple sexual partners or limit the number of sexual partners.
  2. Make sure that you do not have unprotected sex by ensuring that a condom is used. This way you reduce the chance of getting any STDs, one of the ectopic pregnancy causes.
  3. Quit your smoking habit if you have one or leave smoking at least when you are trying for pregnancy.
  4. Be aware of your own reproductive health and visit a gynaecologist at regular intervals.

Q2. How can I cope with my loss after an ectopic pregnancy?

Ans- To lose a pregnancy like this is a shocking and devastating experience, especially when it might affect your chances of having a healthy pregnancy in the future. It is an exhausting ordeal for both the mind and the body, something that might even leave you numb in its wake. 

But you will be better again after taking some time to rest and healing emotionally too. Share your burden with your partner and get help if you feel that you can’t deal with it otherwise. You might not want to try for pregnancy for some time after this and it is perfectly fine to be wary. Take everything one day at a time and move at your own pace.

Q3. Can I have a normal pregnancy after I had an ectopic pregnancy?

It is possible to have a normal pregnancy after having an ectopic pregnancy, it all depends on how early did you get it treated. Having it diagnosed and removed early will cause the least damage to your reproductive organs, therefore increasing your chances of having a successful pregnancy later on. Another thing that factors in here is the cause for the ectopic pregnancy and whether it is a problem that will always hinder a normal pregnancy. It is best to have clear details about the status of your reproductive health before trying for another pregnancy.

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