In a normal pregnancy, a fertilized egg implants itself in the lining of the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy is a serious condition in which a fertilized egg attaches itself to an organ outside of the uterus.
Types of ectopic pregnancies include:
- Tubal pregnancy – The most common type, a tubal pregnancy occurs in a fallopian tube.
- Cervical pregnancy – This pregnancy develops in the lining of the endocervical canal between the uterus and vagina.
- Cesarean scar pregnancy – The rarest form, a cesarean scar pregnancy implants at the site of a past C-section scar.
Cervical and cesarean scar pregnancies are very uncommon and are sometimes referred to as non-tubal ectopic pregnancies.
A woman who develops an ectopic pregnancy will be advised to end the pregnancy. A fetus growing outside of the uterus cannot survive, and the mother faces a high risk of life-threatening complications such as heavy bleeding.
Ectopic Pregnancy Causes
The exact causes of ectopic pregnancy aren’t fully understood. Research suggests that ectopic pregnancy may be related to:
- Hormonal factors
- Inflammation or scarring in the pelvic region
- Diseases that impact the shape and health of the female reproductive organs
- Congenital defects that impact the fallopian tubes
- Genetic irregularities
Any woman of childbearing age can have an ectopic pregnancy, but certain factors can increase the chances of experiencing this condition. Established risk factors for ectopic pregnancy include:
- Advanced maternal age (35 or older)
- A previous ectopic pregnancy
- A history of multiple induced abortions
- Previous abdominal or pelvic surgeries
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms
The signs of an ectopic pregnancy will vary according to its location and stage. Some of the most common symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include:
- Intense pain on one side of the abdomen
- Vaginal bleeding that may be heavy or light
- Sharp pain around the pelvis, abdomen, neck or shoulder
- Pressure around the rectum
- Fainting, weakness or dizziness
- Digestive problems
Call 911 immediately if you or someone around you experiences intense pelvic or abdominal pain that is accompanied by vaginal bleeding.
Ectopic Pregnancy Diagnosis
Transvaginal ultrasound imaging is the most widely used method for identifying an ectopic pregnancy. During this procedure, a thin ultrasound device is inserted into the vagina to produce images of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and cervix using sound waves.
Ectopic Pregnancy Treatments
Tampa General Hospital’s Women’s Institute offers a full spectrum of high-risk obstetrics and specialized care for patients with ectopic pregnancies. Depending on a woman’s unique case and care preferences, an injection or minimally invasive surgery may be recommended to safely end the pregnancy. Surgery can also be used to repair any damage caused by the pregnancy in the pelvic area.