An ectopic pregnancy is a complication that can be extremely dangerous for a pregnant woman if not treated. While ectopic pregnancies are not very common (happening in about 2% of pregnancies), women who are sexually active should know what they are, what symptoms to watch out for, and the importance of verifying the viability of a new pregnancy.
What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
During a normal, healthy pregnancy, the woman’s egg gets fertilized and attaches to the lining inside of her uterus, where it will spend the next 9 months developing and growing. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the egg is fertilized and implants somewhere outside of the uterus.
In most of these cases, the egg implants within the fallopian tube, which is the part of the body that carries the egg from the ovaries to the uterus. Less commonly, the egg can also become implanted in other areas such as the abdomen, ovary or cervix.
How To Determine if a Pregnancy Is Ectopic
Ectopic pregnancy symptoms are very similar to those of a healthy pregnancy in the early stages. A pregnancy test will still show positive and many of the symptoms will be similar to what you would experience with a pregnancy in the uterus. These symptoms typically begin to develop between the 4th and 12th weeks of pregnancy:
- Nausea or morning sickness
- Breast tenderness
- Missed period
- Positive pregnancy test
There are many women who don’t experience any early signs or symptoms of ectopic pregnancy and may not notice an issue until more serious symptoms begin to develop as the fertilized egg continues to grow outside of the uterus:
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Dizziness or weakness
- Shoulder pain
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting
While symptoms can certainly help to clue you in to the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy, the most accurate way to determine for certain if your pregnancy is ectopic is to have an ultrasound. An ultrasound will reveal whether or not the pregnancy is located in the uterus and is progressing as it should be.
If you are in need of an ultrasound or are searching for pregnancy help, Center for Women offers free ultrasounds performed by one of our medical professionals on staff.
Ectopic pregnancies can happen to anyone, however the following factors have been known to potentially increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy:
- Previous ectopic pregnancy
- Previous pelvic or abdominal surgery
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
- An IUD in place at the time of conception
- A history of smoking tobacco
- A history of infertility or going through infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Pregnancy that occurs after you’ve gotten your tubes tied
Although the above factors have shown a correlation with women who have had ectopic pregnancies, up to 50% of women who have had an ectopic pregnancy did not have any known risk factors. If you are sexually active, it’s important to be alert to any changes that are happening in your body and to schedule an ultrasound right away if you are experiencing symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy.
Can an Ectopic Pregnancy Be Carried to Full Term?
The uterus is the only organ in the body that is able to support a growing baby as it is flexible and able to expand as the pregnancy progresses. Fallopian tubes and other organs are not able to support the pregnancy’s growth. If a pregnancy outside of the uterus goes untreated while the pregnancy continues to grow, the fallopian tube may rupture or damage may occur to other organs, causing internal bleeding and possibly death. Once a pregnancy begins outside of the uterus, it is not possible for the pregnancy to get relocated to the uterus, therefore the pregnancy cannot safely be carried to full term. Once diagnosed, immediate treatment is required to stop any continued growth of the fertilized egg and to end the ectopic pregnancy. For this reason, it is extremely important for you to confirm the health and viability of your pregnancy as early as possible, even if you are not considering keeping the pregnancy.
Treatment for Ectopic Pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancies are treated with the use of medication or surgery, depending on factors such as your health, the size of the fetus, and the symptoms you are experiencing. If the pregnancy is diagnosed early enough, medication will likely be used to stop the pregnancy. In other cases, surgery may be required to remove the pregnancy before it becomes too large.
Is the Treatment for Ectopic Pregnancy Considered Abortion?
Particularly after the overturn of Roe v Wade, there is a lot of confusion around the treatment of ectopic pregnancies and abortion. While treating an ectopic pregnancy does require a pregnancy to be removed, it is not considered an induced abortion.The medication and procedures that are used to treat ectopic pregnancies are also very different from the procedures used to perform abortions.
Ectopic pregnancies are not viable, meaning they are not able to grow to full-term. Because of this and the danger to the health and life of the mother, ectopic pregnancies are considered medical emergencies and treatment is encouraged and necessary in order to prevent life-threatening complications.
How Center for Women Can Help
While ectopic pregnancies are not common, they are certainly possible and happen in about 1 in every 50 pregnancies. At Center for Women, our team is trained and ready to help you in ensuring your pregnancy is safe and that you have the support and resources you need. If you’d like additional information about ectopic pregnancy, are in need of an ultrasound or would like help navigating any other pregnancy-related issues, call, text, or come see us. We’re here for you!