What is ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus. Almost all ectopic pregnancies—more than 90%—occur in a fallopian tube. As the pregnancy grows, it can cause the tube to burst (rupture). A rupture can cause major internal bleeding. This can be a life-threatening emergency that needs immediate surgery.
What are the risk factors for ectopic pregnancy?
The risk factors for ectopic pregnancy include the following:
- Previous ectopic pregnancy
- Prior fallopian tube surgery
- Previous pelvic or abdominal surgery
- Certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
Other factors that may increase a woman’s risk of ectopic pregnancy include:
- cigarette smoking
- age older than 35 years
- history of infertility
- use of assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF)
About one half of all women who have an ectopic pregnancy do not have known risk factors. Sexually active women should be alert to changes in their bodies, especially if they experience symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy?
At first, an ectopic pregnancy may feel like a typical pregnancy with some of the same signs, such as a missed menstrual period, tender breasts, or an upset stomach. Other signs may include:
- abnormal vaginal bleeding
- low back pain
- mild pain in the abdomen or pelvis
- mild cramping on one side of the pelvis
At this stage, it may be hard to know if you are experiencing a typical pregnancy or an ectopic pregnancy. Abnormal bleeding and pelvic pain should be reported to your obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other health care professional.
As an ectopic pregnancy grows, more serious symptoms may develop, especially if a fallopian tube ruptures. Symptoms may include the following:
- Sudden, severe pain in the abdomen or pelvis
- Shoulder pain
- Weakness, dizziness, or fainting
A ruptured fallopian tube can cause life-threatening internal bleeding. If you have sudden, severe pain; shoulder pain; or weakness, you should go to an emergency room.
How is ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?
If you do not have the symptoms of a fallopian tube rupture but your ob-gyn or other health care professional suspects you may have ectopic pregnancy, he or she may perform a pelvic exam
perform an ultrasound exam to see where the pregnancy is developing
test your blood for a pregnancy hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)
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