Have you heard of an ectopic pregnancy?
Ectopic pregnancies are when a fertilized egg starts to grow outside of the uterus or womb. These types of pregnancies are rare, and although they may be disappointing, so long as they are caught early, they usually will not affect a woman’s ability to bring future babies to term.
Ectopic pregnancies are rare, but they can cause severe complications if not addressed early on. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you need to know the signs and communicate them to your OBGYN or midwife as soon as possible.
Here’s an overview on what you should know about ectopic pregnancies, the symptoms you should look out for, as well as what to do if you think you have one.
What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
Ectopic pregnancies describe the condition when a fertilized egg is embedded in an area other than the uterus. This situation usually happens because the fertilized egg is not carried all the way to the uterus properly, and is therefore stuck in the cilia of the fallopian tube.
Most often, the egg will embed itself in the fallopian tubes, but these types of pregnancies can also happen in various parts of the pelvic area, including the cervix and ovaries.
Some studies show that women who experience infertility that has to do with their fallopian tubes are more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancies are almost always nonviable and will not result in a live birth. Thus, even if the mother is not experiencing signs of expulsion, they should expect to abort the fetus.
Delivery is uncommon for ectopic pregnancies. These pregnancies are typically terminated because they can be extremely dangerous if left untreated. In fact, some experts recognize that ectopic pregnancies cause 32 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies.
Signs and Symptoms
One of the problems with these types of pregnancies is that they may not have any specific symptoms, which means they are difficult to pinpoint. To make matters worse, symptoms that do appear may mimic PMS, miscarriage, UTIs, ovarian problems, or even appendicitis.
Typical symptoms include vaginal bleeding, a sudden pain, nausea, and vomiting. If the pregnancy ruptures, the woman may feel other symptoms such as swelling, inflammation, and tenderness in the abdomen.
Possible risk factors for ectopic pregnancy include pelvic inflammatory disease, certain types of infertility (and associated surgeries), smoking, STDs, IUDs, endometriosis, and previous ectopic pregnancies.
It should also be noted that heavy smokers are almost four times more likely to experience this type of pregnancy.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing that you can do to protect yourself from this type of pregnancy completely. But you can understand the risk factors and try to mitigate those in advance where possible. For instance, Chlamydia (and PID) seems to be a factor in ectopic pregnancies, so steering clear of STDs can help to minimize the chance of this happening.
What Happens Once an Ectopic Pregnancy is Discovered or Diagnosed?
To the mother, an ectopic pregnancy may feel like a regular early pregnancy, with no specific signs or symptoms other than what would normally be expected during the first trimester.There’s typically no “test” for this type of pregnancy, which is one of the reasons why OBGYNs, midwives, and other medical specialists are trained to look for them.
In most cases, if you find yourself with this type of pregnancy, it is too dangerous to attempt to save it. Not only is it dangerous for the mother to try to let it grow, typically the fetus will not survive. Sometimes surgical removal is necessary, in which case the surgery will usually be laparoscopic and therefore result in minimal scarring and complications itself.
If You Think You Have an Ectopic Pregnancy
It’s important to understand that, while most of these types of pregnancies must be terminated, they will not necessarily impact your ability to become pregnant in the future. That being said, if you recognize the signs of an ectopic pregnancy, you need to get proper help as soon as possible in order to prevent internal scarring, which has a small chance of affecting future pregnancies.
If you believe that you are at risk for an ectopic pregnancy or that you may have one, be sure to call your healthcare practitioner immediately as this should be treated as a medical emergency.
If you believe you have an ectopic pregnancy or are at risk for one and have questions, contact us at our Wilmette or Glenview locations (link to each location page) to schedule an appointment with a trusted OBGYN.