Early Signs of Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. If the egg implants in the Fallopian tubes, the pregnancy is called a tubal pregnancy.  Around 98% of ectopic pregnancies are tubal.  The other two present of ectopic pregnancies typically occur in the ovaries, abdomen and cervix. Up to one in 50 pregnancies is ectopic, though the rate is lower for most women and higher for certain women with known risk factors. Tubal pregnancies occur when aEarly Signs of Ectopic Pregnancyn egg moves too slowly though the Fallopian tubes.  Any sort of structural defect, scarring, or surgical damage can affect how quickly the egg passes through the tube.  Women who have had a tubal ligation, known as having their tubes tied, can be at greater risk for tubal pregnancy if the procedure fails. Also, sexually transmitted infections and disease (STD) can cause scarring and damage, as can other, non-STD related pelvic infections.  Chronic conditions like endometriosis and fibroid tumor production, can also affect the Fallopian tubes.  Cigarette smoking has also been linked to ectopic pregnancy.  Once a woman has an ectopic pregnancy the changes of her having another ectopic pregnancy increase dramatically.  Even when an ectopic pregnancy is safely and quickly resolved, some damage to the Fallopian tubes has likely occurred. No ectopic pregnancy is sustainable.  For the health of the mother, ectopic pregnancies have to be terminated.  The sooner an ectopic pregnancy can be resolved, the less likely there is to be significant damage that would prevent a normal pregnancy in the future.  Recognizing the signs of ectopic pregnancy can mean the difference between a woman losing her fertility (or even her life) and having the chance for a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby in the future.  Here are a few of the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy.

Early Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy

  • Cramping and tenderness on one side of the pelvis.
  • Abdominal, lower back or pelvic pain.
  • Mild vaginal bleeding.

Unfortunately, all of these symptoms can also occur in a normal pregnancy or during a typical miscarriage. If a pregnant woman experiences any of these symptoms, she should immediately make an appointment with her doctor.  The doctor should do some blood work and may send the woman for an ultrasound.  If the doctor does not order an ultrasound, a woman should ask for one, or have the doctor explain why he or she is not ordering one. As mentioned, catching an ectopic pregnancy early can make all the difference in the world.

Later signs

Patients with late ectopic pregnancy have vaginal bleeding and abdominal, pelvic and back pain as well but both the bleeding and the pain are much worse. Some of the other signs are:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding.
  • Internal bleeding due to hemorrhage from the affected fallopian tube.
  • Sharp pain in the shoulder near where the upper arm meets the body, called tip of the shoulder pain.

Any woman experiencing tip of the shoulder pain, intense abdominal and pelvic pain and heavy bleeding needs to go to the emergency room immediately, as the ectopic pregnancy likely caused a Fallopian tube to rupture and start hemorrhaging blood.  At such a point the woman’s life is in danger.

As with any other situation, if a woman ever has any doubts concerns or unusual or alarming symptoms, she should call her doctor.  Learning to recognize when something is wrong, even something minor, and communicating those symptoms to a doctor is critical to a woman’s health and well-being.  Never feel shy or nervous about calling the doctor; it is his or her job to answer questions and address concerns.

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