An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a tiny embryo implants somewhere it is not supposed to. Instead of burrowing into the lining of a woman’s uterus the embryo implants into the ovary, fallopian tube (most common), somewhere out in the abdomen, or even in a previous C-section scar.  Ectopic pregnancies are very rare (only 1-2% of all pregnancies), but when they occur, they can be life-threatening.

Why is an ectopic pregnancy life-threatening? 

The uterus serves the important purpose of hosting a newly implanted embryo with all of the increased blood supply that comes with it. The uterus stretches and grows along with the pregnancy, allowing the baby to grow and develop throughout the pregnancy.  Fallopian tubes, ovaries, C-section scars, and other places in the abdomen can’t grow and stretch to accommodate the baby’s growth.  As a woman’s unborn grows (usually by 8 weeks), a pregnancy in the fallopian tubes will become too big for the tiny space and rupture the tube, leading to life threatening internal bleeding.  According to one article, ruptured ectopic pregnancies account for up to 6% of all maternal deaths.

What are the risk factors?

Some risk factors associated with ectopic pregnancies include smoking, use of IUDs, damage to the fallopian tubes by previous surgeries, infections such as sexual diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

What are symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy and how is the condition diagnosed?

The main symptoms a woman may experience for ectopic pregnancy are similar to a normal pregnancy such as a missed period and a positive pregnancy test.  Later signs may include pelvic pain, light vaginal bleeding, and feeling light-headed and dizzy. Seek medical treatment right away if you think you might be pregnant and are experiencing severe abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, and/or feeling very dizzy and faint.

Diagnosis is done by monitoring your pregnancy hormone levels and symptoms and performing an ultrasound.

How is ectopic pregnancy treated?

There are three main treatment options depending on the woman’s condition and the size and location of the ectopic pregnancy.

  1. Delay and determine. If a woman is early, the physician may decide to wait and watch.  Some ectopic pregnancies end and resolve on their own.
  2. Administer a medication to end the pregnancy.  Most commonly, methotrexate is used.  The woman will be monitored to be certain the treatment is working.
  3. Surgical intervention – required immediately if there is any concern that the ectopic pregnancy may rupture.

None of the treatments will save the baby and this can be a heartbreaking time for women who are excited about being pregnant.  The exception is very rare…when an ectopic pregnancy in a woman’s abdomen grows and survives; if a live abdominal ectopic is discovered after 24 weeks the doctor and mother may decide to attempt to plan for a C-section to save the baby and the mom.

True Care and ectopic pregnancy

True Care works to help women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy to understand all of their pregnancy options and provides the tools and information they need to help them make the best decision possible.  One way we do that is to provide our positive pregnancy test patients with a viability ultrasound scan, which means we’re looking for a baby with a heartbeat in the uterus; that helps the patient know how far along she is.  While we are not equipped to diagnose and treat ectopic pregnancies at True Care, we have been able to refer patients to the emergency room right away when we were concerned about a possible ectopic.

If you’re experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, contact True Care to schedule an appointment. All of our services are free, including pregnancy testing, ultrasound if your test is positive, and STD testing. You’ll also receive information on all three pregnancy options: abortion, adoption, and parenting as well as information on community resources that can help you with many situations you might be facing, including unemployment, housing needs, and doctor referrals. Call 307-215-9684 for your appointment.