Pinky Ronen, M.D.
An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that is located in the wrong place in a woman’s body.
Pregnancy begins when a woman’s egg joins together with a man’s sperm. These cells grow into a bigger group of cells, called an “embryo.” In a normal pregnancy, the embryo attaches to the lining of the uterus. Then, it can grow into a baby.
In an ectopic pregnancy, a woman’s egg joins with a man’s sperm and forms an embryo. But the embryo does not attach to the uterine lining. Instead, it attaches to a place in the body that it should not attach to and starts to grow. Even though the embryo gets bigger, it cannot grow into a baby. As the embryo gets bigger, it can cause pain and bleeding and lead to other problems. Some of these problems can be life-threatening.
In most ectopic pregnancies, the embryo attaches to the lining of 1 of the fallopian tubes (the tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus). When this happens, doctors also call it a “tubal pregnancy.” In rare cases, the embryo can also attach to the cervix, ovary, or the inside of the belly.
Some women have a higher chance than other women of having an ectopic pregnancy. A woman can have a higher chance of having an ectopic pregnancy if she:
Women who use a type of birth control called an “intrauterine device” or “IUD” have a very low chance of getting pregnant at all. But, if a woman using an IUD does get pregnant, she is at high risk of ectopic pregnancy should have her doctor to check for ectopic pregnancy.
Women who have an ectopic pregnancy don’t always have symptoms early on. If a woman does have symptoms early on, she can have:
Some women don’t have any symptoms until the ectopic pregnancy causes more serious problems. For example, an embryo growing in a fallopian tube can cause the fallopian tube to burst open. When this happens, symptoms can include:
If you are pregnant and have these symptoms, go to an emergency room as soon as possible.
To check if you have an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor or nurse can do:
A blood test to measure a hormone called hCG — This test checks if you are pregnant and how much hCG the pregnancy is making.
An imaging test called an ultrasound to see where the embryo is in your body — Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.
Sometimes, test results show an ectopic pregnancy right away. Other times, doctors need to repeat the tests every few days to know for sure if a woman has an ectopic pregnancy.
Doctors can treat an ectopic pregnancy in 2 ways, depending on the size of the embryo, the woman’s symptoms, and other factors. Both treatments involve removing the embryo. A woman can be treated with:
Medicine — Your doctor can give you a shot of medicine. The medicine stops the embryo’s growth and causes it to dissolve. Women who are treated with medicine need follow-up blood tests for a few weeks to make sure that the treatment worked.
Surgery — A doctor can do surgery to remove the embryo. Your doctor might or might not need to remove your fallopian tube.
Can an ectopic pregnancy be prevented? — Most ectopic pregnancies cannot be prevented. But women have a higher chance of having an ectopic pregnancy if they get a lot of infections that you catch during sex. To reduce your chance of getting a disease from sex, you can use a condom.
You can also quit smoking (if you smoke) to reduce your chance of having an ectopic pregnancy.
Many women are able to have a normal pregnancy after having an ectopic pregnancy. But let your doctor or nurse know if you are trying to get pregnant. That way, he or she can follow your pregnancy to make sure everything is normal.