An ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg mistakenly attaches somewhere outside the womb. Most ectopic pregnancies are in the fallopian tubes which are the connections between the ovaries and the womb.
Ectopic pregnancies more rarely can occur in your ovary, abdominal cavity or cervix. Pregnancies CANNOT continue if they’re ectopic because only your uterus is meant to carry a pregnancy.
That is why the 5th week scan is important - it shows if the pregnancy is in the uterine cavity or not.
Ectopic pregnancies can become life-threatening, especially if your fallopian tube breaks (ruptures). This is a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, and it can cause severe bleeding, infection and sometimes, death.
An ectopic pregnancy is less common than a miscarriage. It happens in up to 2.5 percent of all pregnancies. This could lead to heavy or light bleeding.
What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?
The early symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy can be very similar to typical pregnancy symptoms. However, you may experience additional symptoms during an ectopic pregnancy, including:
- Vaginal bleeding.
- Pain in your lower abdomen, pelvis and lower back.
- Dizziness or weakness.
If your fallopian tube ruptures, the pain and bleeding could be severe enough to cause additional symptoms. These can include:
- Low blood pressure (hypotension).
- Shoulder pain.
- Rectal pressure or bowel problems.
- When a tube bursts, you may feel sudden, sharp lower abdominal pain. This is a medical emergency. You should head to the hospital immediately.
What causes an ectopic pregnancy?
In most cases, conditions that slow down or block the movement of the egg down your fallopian tube cause ectopic pregnancy. This could happen because:
- You have scar tissue, adhesions or inflammation from a prior pelvic surgery.
- Your fallopian tubes have damage, such as from a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
- You were born with an irregularly-shaped fallopian tube.
- You have a growth blocking your fallopian tube.
How do I know if I’m at risk of an ectopic pregnancy?
There are several risk factors that could increase your chance of developing an ectopic pregnancy. You may be at a higher risk of developing an ectopic pregnancy if you’ve had:
- A previous ectopic pregnancy.
- A history of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection that can cause scar tissue to form in your fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries and cervix.
- Surgery on your fallopian tubes (including tubal ligation) or on the other organs of your pelvic area.
- A history of infertility.
- Treatment for infertility with in vitro fertilization (IVF).
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- An IUD in place at the time of conception.
- A history of smoking tobacco.
- Pregnancy after tubal ligation (having your tubes tied).
Your risk can also increase with age. People over age 35 have a higher risk than people under 35.
But, the numbers show that up to 50% of people who experience an ectopic pregnancy don’t have any of the above risk factors. So, just be careful and don’t blame yourself.