understanding ectopic pregnancy

Thankfully, most pregnancies go by without a hitch. On occasion things can be a bit more complicated though. Ectopic pregnancy affects around 1 in every 90 pregnant women. Here's what you need to know.

what is an ectopic pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy is when an egg is fertilised, but instead of implanting in the womb, it implants somewhere else. In most cases, this is a fallopian tube. In others, it’s the abdomen, ovary, cervix, or within a caesarean scar. An ectopic pregnancy can be dangerous if it’s not treated. It’s rare for an ectopic pregnancy to result in death for a woman in the UK, but it’s important to seek medical help quickly.

symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy

Symptoms usually start a couple of weeks after a missed period, and include:

  • tummy pain on one side, low down
  • pain when going to the toilet
  • vaginal bleeding, or a watery, brown discharge
  • pain in the tip of your shoulder

In many cases there are no symptoms and an ectopic pregnancy is only discovered during the three-month scan.

when to call the doctor if you suspect an ectopic pregnancy

If you think there’s a chance you could be pregnant and you experience any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned above, give your doctor a ring. It might just be a tummy bug, or something else, but it’s always best to get checked out. Your doctor will likely refer you for some tests, such as an ultrasound.

when to call 999

You’ll need to go to A&E, or ring for an ambulance, if think you could be pregnant and have a combination of the symptoms below. In some cases, these symptoms could warn that your fallopian tube is rupturing, so you need to be treated quickly.

  • sudden, intense pain in your tummy
  • feeling really dizzy, or fainting
  • looking really pale
  • feeling very sick (beyond normal pregnancy sickness)

risk factors for an ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy can happen to any woman. Some things do increase your risk however. These include:

  • having pelvic inflammatory disease, sometimes caused by chlamydia
  • abdominal surgery, such as having a caesarean section
  • IVF
  • becoming pregnant while using an IUD, or when taking the mini-contraceptive pill
  • having had a previous ectopic pregnancy

what happens if you have an ectopic pregnancy

If you’re found to have an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor may wait to see whether the egg dissolves by itself. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll be offered methotrexate to stop the egg from growing, or keyhole surgery. Sadly, it’s not possible to save the egg, or to move it to your womb. If you need surgery, you might need to have the fallopian tube removed as well. While this can make it harder to get pregnant again, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get pregnant. Most women can go on to have a healthy pregnancy.

coping after an ectopic pregnancy

Losing a baby can be devastating. There are lots of support groups that may be able to help you to come to terms with your loss. These include:

Try to bear in mind that you didn’t do anything wrong and there’s every chance that another pregnancy will be healthy. If you do decide to try for a baby again, it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve had at least two periods. You might need to wait a bit longer if you had to take methotrexate. Most women can conceive again after having an ectopic pregnancy, even if you’ve had to have a fallopian tube removed.