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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
- Having had a previous ectopic pregnancy
- Scarring from past infections or surgery of the female organs
The following also increase risk of an ectopic pregnancy:
- Age over 35
- Getting pregnant while having an intrauterine device (IUD)
- Having your tubes tied (tubal ligation): This is more likely 2 or more years after the procedure
- Having had surgery to untie tubes (tubal sterilization) to become pregnant
- Having had many sexual partners
- Some infertility treatments
Sometimes the cause is unknown. Hormones may play a role.
An ectopic pregnancy can occur even if you use birth control.
You may have early pregnancy symptoms, such as breast tenderness or nausea. Other symptoms may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Low back pain
- 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
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.
HCG is a hormone normally produced during pregnancy. Checking the blood level of this hormone (quantitative HCG blood test) can diagnose pregnancy. If the blood level of HCG is not rising fast enough, your doctor may suspect an ectopic pregnancy.
You will need emergency medical help if the area of the ectopic pregnancy breaks open (ruptures). Rupture can lead to bleeding and shock, an emergency condition. Treatment for shock may include:
- Blood transfusion
- Fluids given through a vein
- Keeping warm
- 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.
If the ectopic pregnancy has not ruptured, treatment may include:
- Medicine that ends the pregnancy, along with close monitoring by your doctor
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
Call your doctor or nurse if you have:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
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 infections caused by sexual relations (STDs)
- Stopping smoking