Ectopic Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

“I’m pregnant!” This is likely one of the most exciting expressions a woman can utter. Unfortunately, pregnancy is not as easy as it may seem. Anything can go wrong, and one of the most common problems that could transpire is an ectopic pregnancy.

What is ectopic pregnancy? Well, a pregnancy starts when the sperm and egg meet. Afterward, the implantation of the fertilized egg normally happens inside the lining of the uterus. Sadly though, the fertilized egg can also grow outside the uterus, and that condition is called ectopic pregnancy. It is an abnormal growth of the fertilized egg, and in most cases, the egg won’t survive.

Causes

The most common form of ectopic pregnancy is tubal pregnancy. Normally, the fertilized egg travels down by the fallopian tube going to the uterus. But if there are damage and deformity in the fallopian tube, the fertilized egg may be trapped on the way to the uterus. Another cause of ectopic pregnancy is a hormonal imbalance.

Symptoms

Ectopic pregnancy exhibits normal symptoms of pregnancy like morning sickness or feeling nauseated and vomiting, amenorrhea or absence of menstrual period, and tenderness of the breasts. A pregnancy test will also be positive. Early signs of ectopic pregnancy include pain in the pelvic area, light color vaginal bleeding and severe pain in the abdomen as blood drips from the fallopian tube. There’s also pelvic discomfort that triggers a bowel movement. Also, hemorrhage or heavy bleeding causes pain on the shoulder—or depending on the nerves affected or the location of blood accumulation.

Risk Factors

Every condition is predisposed by several risk factors. As for ectopic pregnancy, one of the major risk factors is having a history of ectopic pregnancy—if you’ve had one, you’ll most likely have another. Women who have undergone a surgical procedure on their fallopian tubes will likely develop a deformity on the fallopian tube and might increase their risk of having an ectopic pregnancy. A woman also has an increased risk for ectopic pregnancy if she has Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). These are infections a person acquires through sexual intercourse with someone infected. Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections.

Also, women who have undergone fertility treatment will make themselves at risk for developing ectopic pregnancy. Additionally, contraceptive methods can make women at risk. For example, becoming pregnant while using an Intrauterine device (IUD) could lead to ectopic pregnancy. Also, if a woman becomes pregnant after tubal ligation—an invasive procedure that involves tying off the fallopian tubes—this will also lead to ectopic pregnancy. Lastly, women who are chain-smokers and smokes during pregnancy have higher risks for developing this condition.

Treatment

Women who have ectopic pregnancy needs close monitoring. The doctor needs to monitor for bleeding and run some blood tests. Medications for pain are also given as needed. The most common intramuscular drug administered to women for the treatment of ectopic pregnancy is Methotrexate. This medication is given to stop the pregnancy by stopping the dividing of cells. After all, the fertilized egg won’t survive outside the uterus and there is no procedure yet for it to be saved.

But it doesn’t end there. The fertilized egg needs to be removed through surgery. And that involves the removal of the affected fallopian tube. The tube can be removed or repaired through laparoscopy. Laparoscopy involves a small incision in the abdomen. 

However, for emergencies like severe pain in the pelvis and heavy bleeding, the doctor needs to perform surgery through a larger incision in the abdomen, and this procedure is called laparotomy.