What is an ectopic pregnancy?

What is an ectopic pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo does not implant in the uterus. In many cases of ectopic pregnancy, the embryo implants in one of the Fallopian tubes. In rare cases, the embryo attaches to an ovary or other abdominal organs.

Ectopic pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition and requires prompt treatment. It usually is discovered by the eighth week of pregnancy.

What causes an ectopic pregnancy?

In most cases, an ectopic pregnancy is caused by conditions that slow down or block the movement of the egg down the Fallopian tube and into the uterus.

Certain risk factors exist for ectopic pregnancy. A risk factor is a trait or behavior that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease or predisposes a person to a certain condition. Risk factors for ectopic pregnancy include:

  • Being over age 35
  • Smoking
  • Use of an intrauterine device (IUD), a form of birth control, at the time of conception
  • History of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Sexually-transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea
  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormality of the Fallopian tube
  • History of pelvic surgery. Scarring might block the fertilized egg from leaving the Fallopian tube.
  • History of ectopic pregnancy
  • Tubal ligation (surgical sterilization), unsuccessful tubal ligation, or reversal of tubal ligation
  • Use of fertility drugs
  • Infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) or gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT)

What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?

Common symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Signs of early pregnancy
  • Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Dizziness or weakness
  • Low back pain

If the Fallopian tube ruptures, the pain and bleeding could be severe enough to cause fainting, low blood pressure, shoulder pain, and rectal pressure. Sudden lower abdominal pain can be sharp. Contact your health care provider if you have any of the above symptoms.

If you realize that you are pregnant and have an IUD (intrauterine device for contraception) in place, or have a history of a tubal ligation (having your tubes tied by surgery or at the time of a C-section), contact your health care provider right away, as ectopic pregnancies are more common in these situations.