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Ectopic pregnancy

Tubal pregnancy; Cervical pregnancy; Tubal ligation - ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb (uterus). It may be fatal to the mother.

Causes

In most pregnancies, the fertilized egg travels through the fallopian tube to the womb (uterus). If the movement of the egg is blocked or slowed through the tubes, it can lead to an ectopic pregnancy. Things that may cause this problem include:

  • Birth defect in the fallopian tubes
  • Scarring after a ruptured appendix
  • Endometriosis
  • Having had an ectopic pregnancy in the past
  • Scarring from past infections or surgery of the female organs

The following also increase risk for an ectopic pregnancy:

  • Age over 35
  • Getting pregnant while having an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Having your tubes tied
  • Having had surgery to untie tubes to become pregnant
  • Having had many sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI)
  • Some infertility treatments

Sometimes, the cause is not known. Hormones may play a role.

The most common site for an ectopic pregnancy is the fallopian tube. In rare cases, this can occur in the ovary, abdomen, or cervix.

An ectopic pregnancy can occur even if you use birth control.

Symptoms

Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy may include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Mild cramping on one side of the pelvis
  • No periods
  • Pain in the lower belly or pelvic area

If the area around the abnormal pregnancy ruptures and bleeds, symptoms may get worse. They may include:

  • Fainting or feeling faint
  • Intense pressure in the rectum
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pain in the shoulder area
  • Severe, sharp, and sudden pain in the lower abdomen

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will do a pelvic exam. The exam may show tenderness in the pelvic area.

A pregnancy test and vaginal ultrasound will be done.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone that is produced during pregnancy. Checking the blood level of this hormone can detect pregnancy.

  • When hCG levels are above a certain value, a pregnancy sac in the uterus should be seen with ultrasound.
  • If the sac is not seen, this may indicate that an ectopic pregnancy is present.

Treatment

Ectopic pregnancy is life threatening. The pregnancy cannot continue to birth (term). The developing cells must be removed to save the mother's life.

If the ectopic pregnancy has not ruptured, treatment may include:

  • Surgery
  • Medicine that ends the pregnancy, along with close monitoring by your doctor

You will need emergency medical help if the area of the ectopic pregnancy breaks open (ruptures). Rupture can lead to bleeding and shock. Treatment for shock may include:

  • Blood transfusion
  • Fluids given through a vein
  • Keeping warm
  • Oxygen
  • Raising the legs

If there is a rupture, surgery is done to stop blood loss and remove the pregnancy. In some cases, the doctor may have to remove the fallopian tube.

Outlook (Prognosis)

One out of three women who have had one ectopic pregnancy can have a baby in the future. Another ectopic pregnancy is more likely to occur. Some women do not become pregnant again.

The likelihood of a successful pregnancy after an ectopic pregnancy depends on:

  • The woman's age
  • Whether she has already had children
  • Why the first ectopic pregnancy occurred

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Lower abdominal or pelvic pain

Prevention

Most forms of ectopic pregnancy that occur outside the fallopian tubes are probably not preventable. You may be able to reduce your risk by avoiding conditions that may scar the fallopian tubes. These steps include:

  • Practicing safer sex by taking steps before and during sex, which can prevent you from getting an infection
  • Getting early diagnosis and treatment of all STIs
  • Stopping smoking

References

Kho RM, Lobo RA. Ectopic pregnancy: etiology, pathology, diagnosis, management, fertility prognosis. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 17.

Nelson AL, Gambone JC. Ectopic pregnancy. In: Hacker NF, Gambone JC, Hobel CJ, eds. Hacker & Moore's Essentials of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 24.

Salhi BA, Nagrani S. Acute complications of pregnancy. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 178.

Text only

  • Pelvic laparoscopy

    Pelvic laparoscopy - illustration

    Laparoscopy is performed when less-invasive surgery is desired. It is also called Band-Aid surgery because only small incisions need to be made to accommodate the small surgical instruments that are used to view the abdominal contents and perform the surgery.

    Pelvic laparoscopy

    illustration

  • Ultrasound in pregnancy

    Ultrasound in pregnancy - illustration

    The ultrasound has become a standard procedure used during pregnancy. It can demonstrate fetal growth and can detect increasing numbers of conditions including meningomyelocele, congenital heart disease, kidney abnormalities, hydrocephalus, anencephaly, club feet, and other deformities. Ultrasound does not produce ionizing radiation and is considered a very safe procedure for both the mother and the fetus.

    Ultrasound in pregnancy

    illustration

  • Female reproductive anatomy

    Female reproductive anatomy - illustration

    External structures of the female reproductive anatomy include the labium minora and majora, the vagina and the clitoris. Internal structures include the uterus, ovaries, and cervix.

    Female reproductive anatomy

    illustration

  • Uterus

    Uterus - illustration

    The uterus is a hollow muscular organ located in the female pelvis between the bladder and rectum. The ovaries produce the eggs that travel through the fallopian tubes. Once the egg has left the ovary it can be fertilized and implant itself in the lining of the uterus. The main function of the uterus is to nourish the developing fetus prior to birth.

    Uterus

    illustration

  • Ultrasound, normal fetus - foot

    Ultrasound, normal fetus - foot - illustration

    This is a normal ultrasound of a fetus at 19 weeks gestation. The right foot, including the developing bones, are clearly visible in the middle of the screen.

    Ultrasound, normal fetus - foot

    illustration

  • Ectopic pregnancy

    Ectopic pregnancy - illustration

    An ectopic pregnancy is one in which the fertilized egg implants in tissue outside of the uterus and the placenta and fetus begin to develop there. The most common site is within a Fallopian tube, however, ectopic pregnancies can occur in the ovary, the abdomen, and in the lower portion of the uterus (the cervix).

    Ectopic pregnancy

    illustration

    • Pelvic laparoscopy

      Pelvic laparoscopy - illustration

      Laparoscopy is performed when less-invasive surgery is desired. It is also called Band-Aid surgery because only small incisions need to be made to accommodate the small surgical instruments that are used to view the abdominal contents and perform the surgery.

      Pelvic laparoscopy

      illustration

    • Ultrasound in pregnancy

      Ultrasound in pregnancy - illustration

      The ultrasound has become a standard procedure used during pregnancy. It can demonstrate fetal growth and can detect increasing numbers of conditions including meningomyelocele, congenital heart disease, kidney abnormalities, hydrocephalus, anencephaly, club feet, and other deformities. Ultrasound does not produce ionizing radiation and is considered a very safe procedure for both the mother and the fetus.

      Ultrasound in pregnancy

      illustration

    • Female reproductive anatomy

      Female reproductive anatomy - illustration

      External structures of the female reproductive anatomy include the labium minora and majora, the vagina and the clitoris. Internal structures include the uterus, ovaries, and cervix.

      Female reproductive anatomy

      illustration

    • Uterus

      Uterus - illustration

      The uterus is a hollow muscular organ located in the female pelvis between the bladder and rectum. The ovaries produce the eggs that travel through the fallopian tubes. Once the egg has left the ovary it can be fertilized and implant itself in the lining of the uterus. The main function of the uterus is to nourish the developing fetus prior to birth.

      Uterus

      illustration

    • Ultrasound, normal fetus - foot

      Ultrasound, normal fetus - foot - illustration

      This is a normal ultrasound of a fetus at 19 weeks gestation. The right foot, including the developing bones, are clearly visible in the middle of the screen.

      Ultrasound, normal fetus - foot

      illustration

    • Ectopic pregnancy

      Ectopic pregnancy - illustration

      An ectopic pregnancy is one in which the fertilized egg implants in tissue outside of the uterus and the placenta and fetus begin to develop there. The most common site is within a Fallopian tube, however, ectopic pregnancies can occur in the ovary, the abdomen, and in the lower portion of the uterus (the cervix).

      Ectopic pregnancy

      illustration

    Self Care

     
     

    Review Date: 1/14/2018

    Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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