{Pregnancy Education} What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the pregnancy takes place on the outside of the uterus or womb. Often in these cases, the pregnancy can happen in the fallopian tube, but can occasionally attach to either an ovary or some other pelvic organ. Anytime a pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus, it can be a dangerous condition. Over time, as the pregnancy grows, the fallopian tubes are unable to accommodate the development and can rupture. This may cause internal bleeding, which, if left untreated, could result in the mother’s death.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG) warns that there are many risk factors and behaviors that could lead to an increased possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. Among those factors are:

  • History of PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease)
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Previous ectopic pregnancy
  • Endometriosis
  • Infertility
  • Prior tubal, pelvic or abdominal surgeries

Additionally, women who smoke or are at an increased maternal age are also at higher risk for the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy.

There are a wide variety of symptoms that could indicate an ectopic pregnancy. Abnormal vaginal bleeding (light or heavy) may be an indication. Abdominal or pelvic pain that may be described as sharp or sudden and without relief may be another indication. However, this abdominal/pelvic pain can also “come and go,” and usually will occur on only one side of the abdomen or pelvis. Another common symptom of an ectopic pregnancy is unusual shoulder pain. This can be caused by the fallopian tube rupturing, causing blood to accumulate in the area between the chest and stomach, resulting in pain in the shoulder. Any of these symptoms may be accompanied by weakness, dizziness or fainting. Most often, the symptoms occur before a woman even suspects that she may be pregnant. If any of these symptoms occur, a doctor should be contacted immediately.

Treatment for an ectopic pregnancy may involve medication or even surgery. The doctor can determine the best treatment for the woman’s situation and symptoms.

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important that you contact a doctor immediately. If you need assistance locating a doctor, we can help. Our hotline is available 24 hours a day at 913-962-0200.

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