Ectopic pregnancy is when a pregnancy grows outside of your uterus, usually in your fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancies are rare but serious, and they need to be treated.
What’s an ectopic pregnancy?
Normal pregnancies develop inside your uterus, after a fertilized egg travels through your fallopian tube and attaches to your uterine lining. Ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg attaches somewhere else in your body, usually in your fallopian tube — that’s why it’s sometimes called “tubal pregnancy.”
Ectopic pregnancies can also happen on your ovary, or somewhere else in your belly.
Ectopic pregnancies are rare — it happens in about 2 out of every 100 pregnancies. But they’re very dangerous if not treated. Fallopian tubes can break if stretched too much by the growing pregnancy — this is sometimes called a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. This can cause internal bleeding, infection, and in some cases lead to death.
Am I at risk for an ectopic pregnancy?
We don’t always know the cause of ectopic pregnancy. But you may be more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy if you:
- have had an STD, pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis
- have already had an ectopic pregnancy
- have had pelvic or abdominal surgery
- are 35 or older
- smoke cigarettes
If you get pregnant after you’ve been sterilized or while you have an IUD, it’s more likely to be ectopic. But this is very rare, because these types of birth control are super effective at preventing pregnancy.
Can I get pregnant again after an ectopic pregnancy?
Most people who have an ectopic pregnancy can have healthy pregnancies in the future, depending on the treatment you had and the condition of your fallopian tubes. If one of your fallopian tubes was removed or your tubes are scarred, it may be more difficult to get pregnant. If you have an ectopic pregnancy, you’re more likely to get another one in the future.
Signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancy symptoms often include pain and bleeding. Only a doctor can tell you for sure if you have an ectopic pregnancy.
Do I have an ectopic pregnancy?
Getting checked out by a doctor is the only way to know for sure if you have an ectopic pregnancy. Your doctor or nurse may do a pelvic exam, blood test, or ultrasound to find out.
The sooner you get treated for an ectopic pregnancy, the better. So if you think you have an ectopic pregnancy, or if you have lots of low belly pain (especially on one side) or abnormal vaginal bleeding, call your nurse or doctor right away.
What are ectopic pregnancy symptoms?
Ectopic pregnancies can seem like normal pregnancies in the very beginning, with typical pregnancy symptoms like a missed period, breast tenderness, fatigue, and nausea. Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include:
- severe lower belly pain, especially on one side
- vaginal bleeding or spotting
- shoulder pain
- feeling very weak, dizzy, or fainting
If you have severe pain or bleeding, go to the emergency room right away. If you have any other symptoms of ectopic pregnancy, contact your doctor or nurse as soon as you can. The earlier an ectopic pregnancy is found and treated, the safer you’ll be.
What’s the treatment for an ectopic pregnancy?
A pregnancy won’t survive if it’s ectopic, because a fertilized egg can’t grow fully outside your uterus.
Ectopic pregnancy treatment is medicine or surgery:
- You get shots of a medicine called methotrexate that ends the ectopic pregnancy. It stops the fertilized egg’s cells from growing, and your body absorbs any cells that have already developed. This shouldn’t damage the fallopian tubes at all.
- The pregnancy is removed with a surgical procedure using laparoscopy. Your doctor makes a small cut near your belly button, and removes the pregnancy using surgical tools and a tiny camera to see inside your body. This is the most common treatment for ectopic pregnancy. Sometimes, this procedure causes scarring in your fallopian tube, or a piece of fallopian tube needs to be removed.
Your doctor will talk with you about what treatment is best for you.