What Is Ectopic Pregnancy?

what is ectopic pregnancy

If you just took a home pregnancy test and it returned positive, you have a lot to think about, especially if the pregnancy was unplanned.  There are many concerns to consider when it comes to navigating an unplanned pregnancy, and one of those concerns is determining if the pregnancy is viable.  This simply means whether or not the pregnancy is developing as it should.  One example of a non-viable pregnancy would be what is called an ectopic pregnancy, which can be a life-threatening condition if left untreated. 

What Is An Ectopic Pregnancy?

A healthy pregnancy is one that develops inside the uterus.  The uterus is the only environment that is suitable to sustain a growing baby.  A pregnancy that implants somewhere other than the uterus is medically called an ectopic pregnancy.  The most common place an ectopic pregnancy is likely to occur is in the fallopian tubes; you may also hear it called a “tubal pregnancy”. Other areas where ectopic pregnancies can occur are within the abdominal cavity or ovaries, though these are rare. In all of these cases, a pregnancy that implants outside the uterus is not sustainable for life.

How Common Are They?

Ectopic pregnancy is very rare, affecting about 2% of all pregnancies.  This translates to about 70,000 cases annually in the United States.

Symptoms And Causes

Causes of an ectopic pregnancy can vary but they occur when a fertilized egg gets stuck on its way to the uterus.  This can happen when the fallopian tube is damaged by inflammation or is not normally shaped.  It can also occur due to hormonal imbalances, an abnormal development of the fertilized egg, or if you have scar tissue, adhesions or inflammation from a prior pelvic surgery. Some of the early symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Low back pain
  • Mild pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Mild cramping on one side of the pelvis

As this kind of pregnancy grows larger, more serious symptoms may develop. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Sudden, severe pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Shoulder pain
  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting

A ruptured fallopian tube can cause life-threatening internal bleeding. If you have sudden, severe pain; shoulder pain; or weakness, you should go to an emergency room immediately.

Risk Factors

Several factors can make you more susceptible to an ectopic pregnancy. If any of these apply to you, carefully watch for the above-mentioned symptoms. Understanding the signs and symptoms can help you feel more prepared in case you develop the condition. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • History of ectopic pregnancy
  • Tubal ligation surgery
  • Endometriosis
  • Infertility
  • IVF treatment
  • Having an IUD when you conceived

Many women who experience an ectopic pregnancy do not have any of these risk factors, so contact your doctor if you suspect anything abnormal.

Diagnosis And Treatment

Ectopic pregnancy is typically diagnosed via ultrasound.  For this reason, early ultrasound is so important when you are pregnant, even if you are considering abortion.  

An ectopic pregnancy cannot move or be moved to the uterus, so if one is diagnosed, it always requires treatment. 

There are two methods typically used to treat ectopic pregnancy: 

1) Medication: Methotrexate is typically prescribed to stop cells from growing, which ends the pregnancy. The pregnancy then is absorbed by the body over 4–6 weeks.

2) Surgery: This is necessary in emergency situations, typically when a fallopian tube has ruptured or is at risk of rupture. 

Several weeks of follow-up are required with each treatment.  It is important to note that the removal of an ectopic pregnancy is not the same as choosing to have an abortion.  This is a medical emergency that removes any choice.


Clearway Clinic provides ultrasounds at no cost for pregnant women in Massachusetts, especially those considering abortion. If an ectopic pregnancy is suspected we will refer you to seek immediate emergency care. Schedule a confidential visit now.

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