Ectopic pregnancy

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What is an ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic means “out of place.” An ectopic pregnancy is one in which the fertilised egg implants in a place other than the womb. In most cases of ectopic pregnancy the egg implants in the fallopian tubes, which lead from the female ovaries to the uterus.

An ectopic pregnancy can also happen on the ovary, within the abdomen or even inside the cervix (mouth of the womb), but this is rare.

How does an ectopic pregnancy happen?

Ectopic pregnancy most often occurs when the journey of the fertilised egg through the fallopian tubes to the uterus (which usually takes 10 days at most) is interrupted, usually by scarring or blockage of the tubes due to infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or injuries due to surgery, endometriosis or a contraceptive device.

What is the treatment for an ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic pregnancies never develop into live births, as the tissue outside the womb is simply not able to sustain a growing foetus, having neither the space nor the nutrition.

The only treatment is to terminate the pregnancy either by medication, laparoscopy or surgery depending on how far it has progressed and whether it has reached an acute (emergency) stage.

How is an ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?

Ectopic pregnancy can be difficult to diagnose as it often presents before a woman even realises that she is pregnant and early symptoms may mimic those of pregnancy, such as missed periods, breast tenderness and nausea.

Signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy

Severe abdominal pain with vaginal spotting or bleeding. 

How an ectopic pregnancy is confirmed

A sonograph and pregnancy test will be done to confirm the diagnosis. Dizziness and referred shoulder pain could be a sign of internal hemorrhaging. This is always a medical emergency that needs urgent attention.

Who is at risk?

Women who have had PID or any other pelvic trauma are at risk for ectopic pregnancy, as are women who have had sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

With good medical care, most women recover completely and many can still achieve a healthy, viable pregnancy later.

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