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Ask a VWC Nurse: What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

discussing ectopic pregnancy

Ask a VWC Nurse: Answers to Your Commonly Asked Questions

ask a nurse Once a month, we feature answers to commonly asked questions that our Valley Women’s Clinic medical staff receives. Our nurses provide answers to these questions here on the blog.

Q. What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

While ectopic pregnancies occur in only about 1-2% of pregnancies, they are a serious medical condition and, if left untreated, can be fatal. That’s why it’s important that women are aware of what an ectopic pregnancy is and what the symptoms are.

A. An ectopic pregnancy is one in which a fertilized egg implants and starts growing in the wrong place.

In a normal pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants and grows inside the uterus (or womb). An ectopic pregnancy can occur in the fallopian tube (where the egg and sperm meet), on an ovary, in the cervix, or somewhere in the abdominal cavity. Ectopic pregnancies located in the fallopian tube are much more common than ones found in other locations, and are also known as tubal pregnancies.

What are the Symptoms?

If a pregnant woman has an ectopic pregnancy, she may experience some of these symptoms:

  • Severe pain felt on one side of the abdomen or pelvis (this pain may come from the fallopian tube being stretched by a growing embryo)
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or blackouts (this may indicate internal bleeding from a ruptured fallopian tube)
  • Abnormally low blood pressure (this may indicate internal bleeding)
  • The passage of tissue (not just blood clots) from your vagina if the ectopic pregnancy is located in the cervix
  • Bleeding from the vagina may or may not be present

Is There a Test to Determine Whether or Not I’m Having an Ectopic Pregnancy?

A doctor may perform a blood test to measure the pregnancy hormone concentration in the woman’s blood to help diagnose an ectopic pregnancy. A lower than expected pregnancy hormone concentration could indicate a possible ectopic pregnancy.

A doctor may also do a pelvic exam to assess pelvic pain and the presence or absence of a pelvic mass.

A tubal pregnancy may be proved by an ultrasound showing a baby outside the womb, or showing no baby in the womb despite a positive pregnancy test. Direct observation of the fallopian tube during surgery may be necessary to make the diagnosis.

What Would Put Someone at Risk for an Ectopic Pregnancy?

A woman is more likely to have a tubal pregnancy if she has one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Has had a previous ectopic pregnancy
  • Has had an infection of the fallopian tubes or certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea or chlamydia
  • Has had a pelvic infection from an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Gets pregnant while an IUD is inside her uterus

Tubal Pregnancies Are a Medical Emergency

If you suspect you may have a tubal pregnancy, you should get medical treatment immediately from an obstetrician-gynecologist. If you do not already have that type of doctor, go to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. Tubal pregnancy is a medical emergency. Failure to get help may allow rapid bleeding into your abdomen from a ruptured internal organ, causing an occasional patient to die from shock (dangerously low blood pressure).

What is the Treatment for a Tubal Pregnancy?

Typically tubal pregnancy is either proved or ruled out by tests mentioned above. A fertilized egg cannot survive outside the womb, and can’t be put back inside it. To protect the woman’s life, the baby, placenta, and sometimes the tube are surgically removed. With some tubal pregnancies, if detected early, medicine can be given to reabsorb the baby and placenta into the woman’s body without resorting to surgery.

Confirm Your Pregnancy

If you think you might be pregnant, the potential for ectopic pregnancy is one important reason to confirm your pregnancy sooner rather than later. Valley Women’s Clinic offers free confirmation of pregnancy through pregnancy testing and ultrasounds. All of our services are free and confidential. If you come in for an ultrasound and an ectopic pregnancy were to be discovered, our staff would advise and assist you with getting medical treatment right away.

If you already know you are pregnant and suspect you may have a tubal pregnancy, seek medical treatment immediately from your OB-GYN or the emergency room of a nearby hospital.

Do you have a question for one of our VWC nurses? Fill out the form below to anonymously ask your question and it could be featured on one of our future Ask a VWC Nurse blog posts!

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