Ectopic pregnancies are a rare but serious condition that occurs when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus. It is estimated that 1 in 50 pregnancies in the United States are ectopic. While this number may seem small, ectopic pregnancies are the leading cause of first trimester pregnancy loss and can be life-threatening if not treated correctly.
What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants in a location other than the uterus. The most common sites for ectopic pregnancies are the fallopian tubes. This is why ectopic pregnancies are sometimes referred to as “tubal pregnancies.” Other sites for ectopic pregnancies include the ovary, cervix and abdomen.
What Causes an Ectopic Pregnancy?
The exact cause of an ectopic pregnancy is unknown but there are certain factors that can increase the risk. These include a history of pelvic infections, prior ectopic pregnancy, infertility, smoking, and the use of intrauterine devices (IUDs).
What are the Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy?
The most common symptom of an ectopic pregnancy is abdominal or pelvic pain. Other symptoms may include irregular vaginal bleeding, dizziness, and shoulder pain. If you experience any of these symptoms during pregnancy, it is important to contact your healthcare provider immediately.
How is an Ectopic Pregnancy Diagnosed?
An ectopic pregnancy is typically diagnosed with a combination of medical history, physical exam, and ultrasound. During an ultrasound, your healthcare provider will look for signs of an ectopic pregnancy, such as an empty gestational sac or an embryo outside the uterus. A pregnancy hormone test may also be done to confirm the diagnosis.
How is an Ectopic Pregnancy Treated?
The treatment for an ectopic pregnancy depends on the severity of the condition. In many cases, medication is used to stop the growth of the pregnancy. In more severe cases, surgery may be needed to remove the pregnancy.
Can an Ectopic Pregnancy be Prevented?
An ectopic pregnancy cannot be prevented but there are certain steps you can take to reduce your risk. These include avoiding smoking, using an IUD, and seeking prompt treatment for pelvic infections.
Ectopic pregnancies are relatively rare, occurring in only 1 in 50 pregnancies. However, they are a serious condition that can be life-threatening if not treated correctly. If you experience any signs or symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, contact your healthcare provider immediately. While there is no way to prevent an ectopic pregnancy, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.