An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterine cavity.
The most common location for an ectopic pregnancy is a uterine tube. This type of pregnancy accounts for more than 90 percent of all diagnosed ectopic pregnancies. Other less common locations for ectopic pregnancy include an ovary, abdominal cavity, cervix, scar from a previous cesarean section, and the comer of the uterus where the tube enters the uterine cavity.
Ectopic pregnancies are fairly rare and account for one to two percent of all pregnancies. An ectopic pregnancy can’t move to the uterus and develop normally.
If left unresolved, an ectopic pregnancy may result in complications, such as uterine tube rupture. This occurs when the growing pregnancy causes the uterine tube to burst open, causing pain and heavy bleeding.
Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancy can be detected by ultrasound, even in patients with no symptoms. As the pregnancy continues to grow, symptoms such as abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding can develop anytime between weeks 4 and 12.
In the event of an ectopic pregnancy, early signs of normal pregnancy may occur as a missed period, positive pregnancy test, nausea or fatigue, breast tenderness, etc. Evaluation for ectopic pregnancy is important if the following symptoms occur:
– Light vaginal bleeding, sometimes dark brown and watery
– Pelvic discomfort
– Lower abdominal pain
These symptoms can be somewhat similar to those of an approaching period, or even early normal pregnancy. If you have any of these symptoms and think you may be pregnant, it’s important to consult with a medical professional.
If a uterine tube ruptures, you may experience heavy vaginal bleeding, severe pain in the lower abdomen, shoulder pain, extreme paleness, and fainting. If this happens, it’s important to seek medical help immediately.
To evaluate a person for an ectopic pregnancy, doctors may use a combination of transvaginal ultrasound and blood tests for hCG and progesterone (pregnancy hormones). If necessary, laparoscopy may be performed for diagnosis and/or treatment of tubal ectopic pregnancy.
Studies suggest that transvaginal ultrasound can correctly diagnose an ectopic pregnancy in more than 90 percent of cases, with laparoscopy having a diagnostic accuracy rate close to 100 percent. With early diagnosis, chances for successful treatment of ectopic pregnancy are fairly high.