ectopic pregnancy-five things to know

Ectopic pregnancies are scary and sad and always result in the loss of the pregnancy. If you are trying to conceive, or if you’ve experienced an ectopic pregnancy in the past, there are some important things you ought to know. We’ve collected these 5 Things You Need to Know About Ectopic Pregnancy to help you understand what it is, how it’s treated, and what it means for your future fertility.

1. What is Ectopic Pregnancy?

Ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that grows anywhere other than the lining of the uterus. That means that a fertilized egg (called an embryo) attaches and grows in a fallopian tube, an ovary, the cervix, or even the outside wall of the uterus. Approximately 2% or less of pregnancies in the United States are ectopic. These pregnancies are potentially dangerous for the life of the pregnant woman. Education, early detection, and treatment are vital to the health of a woman.

2. What Makes an Ectopic Pregnancy More Likely to Occur?

It is possible to have an ectopic pregnancy with no risk factors, but a woman who has the following factors in her health history or lifestyle may be at increased risk for an ectopic pregnancy:

  • Prior abdominal or pelvic surgery
  • STI’s (sexually transmitted infections)
  • Endometriosis (the condition in which uterine tissue grows outside the uterine cavity)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Previous fertility treatment(s)
  • Previous ectopic pregnancy
  • Conception with an IUD (intrauterine device) in place
  • African-American heritage

3. What are the Warning Signs of Ectopic Pregnancy?

The symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy can include abdominal pain, shoulder pain, dizziness, feeling faint and vaginal bleeding. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect you are pregnant, it’s very important to see your obstetrician/gynecologist as soon as possible. Ultimately, an ectopic pregnancy will be confirmed by repeating blood tests for HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin, also known as the pregnancy hormone) to check for rising or falling levels and an abdominal/pelvic ultrasound to visually examine the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterus.

4. What Are My Treatment Options for Ectopic Pregnancy?

It is incredibly rare for an ectopic pregnancy to carry to term and can be very dangerous for the life of the woman. Therefore, depending upon the severity of your symptoms, the estimated stage of the pregnancy, and other factors in your health history, your doctor will likely present you with one of the following treatments options:

  • Non-surgical, medicinal treatment – Methotrexate, a drug typically used in cancer treatment, is injected by a medical professional. Follow up blood tests will be ordered to monitor HCG levels as they decrease. Most ectopic pregnancies are successfully treated with this method. However, the side effects and possible complications should be discussed thoroughly with your doctor for appropriate attention and care after taking the drug. Typically, this is done on an outpatient basis, with return visits to the office for follow-up.
  • Surgical treatments – Minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery is the most commonly performed surgical option for ectopic pregnancy. Very small instruments, inserted through small incisions in the abdomen, are guided by a small telescope, inserted through another abdominal incision to remove the ectopic pregnancy and possibly other affected tissue or the fallopian tube. Sometimes, a laparotomy is required to get better access to internal bleeding, larger masses of scar tissue, and the pregnancy. The laparotomy is a larger incision and thus more invasive to the woman’s body. Both surgical options most commonly require some sort of in-patient care, hospitalization, and monitoring.
  • Observation / Monitoring – In some situations, ectopic pregnancy resolves on its own even before it has been detected or diagnosed. It’s important that you know your body’s symptoms well, including your risk factors for ectopic. Contact your physician immediately if you suspect you are experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.

5. Will I Ever Get and Stay Pregnant Once I’ve Had an Ectopic Pregnancy?

Once you’ve had one ectopic pregnancy, you should consider seeking fertility care to plan for the possibility of future pregnancy. While you are about 10% more likely to experience another ectopic, you can indeed experience a successful pregnancy with careful monitoring and planning. In fact, if your first ectopic pregnancy left the affected fallopian tube intact and open, you have a 60% chance of future pregnancy. Early detection and monitoring of following pregnancies will be an important key to a successful pregnancy outcome. If you have trouble conceiving after you have had an ectopic pregnancy, it’s even more important to work closely with a fertility specialist who knows your health history and can walk you through pertinent testing and treatments to achieve pregnancy.

If you’ve had an ectopic pregnancy, please share your experience in the comments.

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