An ectopic pregnancy is a condition that occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. Find out how this can happen and signs to look for.
A few weeks ago, with the help of a home pregnancy test kit, you have confirmed you are pregnant with your first baby. Each day, the excitement of having a bundle of joy puts a smile on your face, until one fine day you wake up with a sense of dread and an unusual feeling of wetness. Worried, you rush to the washroom, only to find that you are bleeding all the way through your shorts. Your partner calmly tells you to get ready and takes you to the emergency ward. The doctor sees you, hears you out and instructs his assistants to carry out some tests. On showing him the reports, you are told that an ectopic pregnancy has occurred. What is that? – you ask yourself. Fear not, your doctor will explain the term and its implications, but if he doesn’t we’ll teach you everything there is to know about it. Let’s begin.
What is an ectopic pregnancy?
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? During ovulation, a mature egg is released from the ovary in the fallopian tube. On being released, this egg can be fertilized for about 12 to 24 hours. When live sperm enters the fallopian tubes during the time of ovulation, the chances of the egg being fertilized are high. If the egg is fertilized, it results in a pregnancy or conception. During pregnancy, the egg clings to the lining of the uterus, which is where the fetus develops. In an ectopic pregnancy, however, the egg that has been fertilized clings to the exterior of the uterus, causing the fetus to develop outside the main cavity of the uterus.
There are three kinds of ectopic pregnancy: tubal pregnancy, non-tubal pregnancy and heterotopic pregnancy. In a tubal pregnancy, the egg is implanted inside one of the fallopian tubes. In a non-tubal pregnancy, the fertilized egg attached itself to the ovary, cervix or intra-abdominal region. In heterotopic pregnancy, one egg attaches to the outside of the uterus and another does so within the uterus. Since tubal pregnancy is the most common type of ectopic pregnancy we will be focusing on tubal pregnancy in this article.
What are the possible causes?
An ectopic pregnancy can occur due to a myriad of reasons. It could be that the fallopian tube is damaged due to inflammation and scarring (caused by a previous medical condition such as a ruptured appendix, surgery or infection), leaving the fertilized egg stranded and unable to reach the uterus.
If you have had an ectopic pregnancy before, you will likely witness it again.
An ectopic pregnancy is also highly likely in case you have had a procedure like in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Your risk is further raised by your birth control choice. While the whole idea of birth control is not to get pregnant, you can still conceive, though in rare instances. An intrauterine device (IUD) could fail to do its job, resulting in an ectopic pregnancy.
Other possible reasons are hormonal imbalances, genetic abnormalities and birth defects.
What are its symptoms?
Because the fertilized egg is not growing where it should (in the womb), symptoms are going to be very noticeable.
Pain in your pelvis (around 6 to 8 weeks after a missed period) and bleeding (light) from your vagina are usually two of the warnings of an ectopic pregnancy. Other symptoms are shoulder pain and an urge to empty your bowel.
You may need emergency treatment if you have heavy vaginal bleeding, extreme lightheadedness, fainting episodes or shock.
Why is it dangerous and what are the risks?
Since an ectopic pregnancy will never develop into a fetus, this condition must be treated soon. The embryo has no chance of surviving outside the uterus. It will perish due to a deficiency in nutrition and hormonal supply even if it does grow. There have been cases where the embryo grows for 12 to 13 weeks, beyond which it causes major complications.
If left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can result in a ‘ruptured ectopic pregnancy’. As the pregnancy progresses, the fallopian tube will stretch beyond its capacity and break, causing internal bleeding and threatening the life of the woman. This rupture usually takes place 6 to 16 weeks into your pregnancy so act fast!
Termination of the pregnancy is the only viable option in such a condition. A doctor will either prescribe surgery or abortive medications. No matter which method of termination you are considered a suitable candidate for, your emotions will run high and you may also need the help of a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, to deal with the pain of losing a baby – similar to if you had a miscarriage. So be well prepared to deal with the aftermath of the procedure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Avery K.
When she isn’t looking after the many needs of her 2 kids, Avery enjoys taking walks in the park, enjoying nature, and getting her daily fix of caffeine.