In a healthy, normally functioning female human body, one of your ovaries releases an egg each month. That egg travels through one of your Fallopian tubes to your uterus. If it’s fertilized, it then attaches itself to the lining of your uterus, and you’re pregnant.
At Apple Hill Gynecology, Dr. Marsha Bornt and her staff are experts in providing outstanding care during pregnancy. We have the knowledge and skills to recognize when something has gone wrong and to help you understand your situation. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, we want to help you avoid a medical emergency and improve your chances of avoiding future health complications.
What is an ectopic pregnancy?
If your egg is fertilized and implants anywhere other than your uterus, it’s considered an ectopic pregnancy. It may implant in your Fallopian tube, your cervix, or your abdominal cavity, although the most common site is the Fallopian tube. Roughly, 20 in 1,000 pregnancies are ectopic.
A fertilized egg cannot grow as it should anywhere except in your uterus, and it’s important for you to recognize the signs of an ectopic pregnancy because if it’s untreated, it can be a medical emergency.
How does an ectopic pregnancy become an emergency?
If a fertilized egg has implanted in your Fallopian tube, there’s no room for it to grow to term, but it will still grow. The result may be a ruptured Fallopian tube, which can be life-threatening.
About 90% of ectopic pregnancies are in the Fallopian tube, but a fertilized egg that implants anywhere except the uterus can cause dangerous complications.
What are the signs of an ectopic pregnancy?
Most women experience signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy very early. You may not even know that you’re pregnant. Some women don’t notice any problems at all.
Common signs include:
- Light vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting
- Abdominal cramping, particularly if it’s on one side or the other
- Pain in one shoulder,
- Pain on one side or the other of your neck
- Rectal pain or pressure
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Should you take a pregnancy test, you’ll receive a positive result. You may also have other symptoms of normal pregnancy like breast tenderness or morning sickness. If you notice any of the symptoms above, seek medical care immediately.
Why do ectopic pregnancies happen?
If your Fallopian tube is damaged, inflamed, or misshapen, you have a much higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy. Other risk factors include:
- Hormonal imbalance
- Previous ectopic pregnancy
- Fertility treatments such as IVF
- Having had surgery on your Fallopian tubes
- The type of birth control you use
- Being a smoker
- Having an infection or inflammation from a condition like gonorrhea or chlamydia
There’s no way to prevent ectopic pregnancies from happening, but you can reduce your risk by quitting smoking and making sure you don’t have an infection.
How is ectopic pregnancy treated?
A fertilized egg that is outside your uterus cannot survive and can present a grave threat to your health and life. The only way to treat an ectopic pregnancy is by removing the ectopic mass. There are two methods for doing that: medication or surgery.
The best treatment depends on how advanced the ectopic pregnancy has become. If it’s early and your Fallopian tube is intact, an injection of methotrexate can stop the cells from growing, and your body can reabsorb the mass.
If the mass is larger and your Fallopian tube is damaged or ruptured, surgery to remove the mass and repair the damage may be necessary.
If you have reason to suspect you may be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, or if you simply have questions about your risk and what you should do, schedule an appointment at Apple Hill Gynecology.