Ectopic Pregnancy: A Rare, But Life-threatening Condition

Pregnancy is an intricate process that involves several steps. One of the most crucial steps is – when a fertilized egg travels through your fallopian tube and links to your uterus lining. In an ectopic pregnancy, a fertilized egg attaches somewhere else in your body, other than the uterus lining. It may attach itself to your fallopian tube, ovary, cervix, or abdominal cavity. 

An ectopic pregnancy usually occurs in the fallopian tube, which transports eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. This type of pregnancy is termed as a “tubal pregnancy.” 

Ectopic pregnancies are very rare. It accounts for just two out of every 100 pregnancies. But if left untreated, this can be a life-threatening condition. Your fallopian tubes might break when stretched too much by the developing pregnancy – this condition is called a “ruptured ectopic pregnancy.” It may lead to an infection, internal bleeding, and in some instances, cause death.

Early treatment can help minimize the risk of complications from the ectopic pregnancy, elevate your chances of healthy future pregnancies, and alleviate future health complications.

What Causes Ectopic Pregnancy?

The reason why an ectopic pregnancy occurs isn’t always clear. Some of the following factors may be responsible:

  • Scarring and inflammation of the fallopian tubes from a past surgical procedure, medical condition, or an infection
  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Birth defects
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Medical conditions that impact the structure and condition of the fallopian tubes and reproductive organs

Consult your healthcare specialist to know the more specific cause of your condition.

Are You At A Risk For An Ectopic Pregnancy?

If you are a sexually active person, you might be at some risk for an ectopic pregnancy. Following factors further increase your risk:

  • Maternal age of 35 years or older
  • History of endometriosis
  • History of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • History of abdominal surgery, pelvic surgery, or multiple abortions
  • Conception assisted by fertility drugs or procedures.
  • Conception occurred despite tubal ligation or intrauterine device 
  • History of ectopic pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Having structural irregularities in the fallopian tubes that make it hard for the egg to travel
  • History of sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia or gonorrhea 

If you find yourself at the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy, talk to your doctor. Work with your healthcare provider or a fertility specialist to reduce the odds of future ectopic pregnancies.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Ectopic Pregnancy?

You may not observe any symptoms at first. However, some women may develop some usual early signs or symptoms of pregnancy, including breast tenderness, nausea, and a missed period.

If you take a pregnancy test, the test result will come up to be positive. However, an ectopic pregnancy doesn’t progress as a normal pregnancy. As the fertilized egg grows in an inappropriate place, the symptom may get worse with time. 

Initial signs 

  • Pelvic pain
  • Light vaginal bleeding

If blood leaks out of your fallopian tubes, you may experience shoulder pain or an increased urge to have a bowel movement. Different people may have different symptoms depending upon where the blood is accumulated and which of the nerves are getting irritated. 

Emergency signs

If the fertilized eggs keep growing within the fallopian tube, it may cause the tube to rupture. You may have heavy bleeding inside the abdomen. This is a life-threatening condition that may lead to specific symptoms, including lightheadedness, shock, and fainting.

Also Read: What Causes A False Positive Pregnancy Test: 07 Possible Causes

When to consult a doctor?

Consult your healthcare specialist immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms of ectopic pregnancy:

  • Extreme lightheadedness
  • Acute pelvic and abdominal pain accompanied by vaginal bleeding.
  • Shoulder pain

How Can You Prevent Ectopic Pregnancy?

Unfortunately, there’s no way you can consider preventing an ectopic pregnancy. However, there are specific ways by which you can hope to minimize your risk:

If you are an active smoker, please quit smoking before you even try to get pregnant. Also, avoid taking second-hand smoke. If someone in your family smokes, kindly request them to avoid smoking when at home or when you are with them.

How Is An Ectopic Pregnancy Diagnosed?

The doctor can take your pelvic exam to identify the areas of your pain, tenderness, or a lump in your ovaries or fallopian tube. He can also order the following tests:

Pregnancy Test: Your doctor may order an hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) blood test to confirm whether you are pregnant. hCG levels usually increase during pregnancy. This test can also be done every few days again until ultrasound results confirm or rule out the risk of an ectopic pregnancy – generally after 5 – 6 weeks of conception.

Ultrasound: The doctor may conduct your transvaginal ultrasound to detect the exact location of your pregnancy. This test involves a wand-like device to be placed into your vagina. By means of sound waves, it produces pictures of your uterus, fallopian tube, and ovaries. A nearby monitor will demonstrate all the images on the screen.

Abdominal ultrasound, in which an ultrasound wand is moved over your belly, can be used to validate your pregnancy or check for internal bleeding.

Other Blood Tests: The doctor may order a complete blood count test for you to test for anemia or check for other signs of blood loss. In case you are diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy and require a transfusion, he might conduct tests to determine your blood type.

How Is An Ectopic Pregnancy Treated?

A fertilized egg cannot develop naturally outside the uterus. To minimize the risk of life-threatening complications, the ectopic tissue should be eradicated. There are various ways the doctor can consider removing your ectopic tissue, including medications, laparoscopic procedures, and abdominal surgery. The best treatment alternative depends upon the symptoms you are experiencing, and when were you diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy. 

Medication: An early ectopic pregnancy with light vaginal bleeding can be cured with drugs such as methotrexate. This medication stops cell growth and dissolves existing cells. You will be given this medication through an injection. But before receiving this injection, make sure the diagnosis of your ectopic pregnancy is validated. 

After you have received this treatment, the doctor will retake your hCG test to determine how well this injection worked for you, and whether you require more medication.

Laparoscopic Procedures: Salpingostomy and salpingectomy – are the two laparoscopic procedures that are widely used in the treatment of ectopic pregnancies. In this procedure, your surgeon will make a small incision in the abdomen or near or into your navel. The, he will use a thin tube that has a camera lens and light attached to it to view the tubal area. This device is called a laparoscope. 

There’s a slight difference between salpingostomy and salpingectomy.

  • Salpingostomy – Only the ectopic pregnancy is removed. The tube is left to heal on its own.
  • Salpingectomy – Both the ectopic pregnancy and the tube is removed. 

The doctor will decide whether Salpingostomy or Salpingectomy is right for you depending upon the amount of bleeding and damage that have been caused and whether the tube is ruptured. One other crucial factor is whether your other fallopian tube is normal or exhibits some signs of prior damage. 

Emergency Surgery: The doctor may recommend surgery for you if your ectopic pregnancy is causing heavy bleeding. This can be performed laparoscopically or through an abdominal incision (called a laparotomy). In certain cases, the fallopian tube could be saved. However, it’s best to remove a ruptured tube.

Photo of author

Natasha Patel

Natasha Patel is the senior writer for the women’s health edition at She worked as a primary care provider before joining the writer’s panel of the blog. She is also trained in routine obstetrics and continues to practice in Oklahoma, where she lives with her family.