Ectopic pregnancy: symptoms, causes and treatment
You must have heard of something known as ectopic pregnancy.
It is a dreaded word.
It brings with it complications and unfortunately, there is no way you can save this kind of pregnancy.
An ectopic pregnancy can’t proceed normally. Even with a fertilized egg, it can’t survive. And to make matters worse, the growing tissues can be life-threatening to the mother if not treated on time.
This post will give you all that you need to know about ectopic pregnancy and ways in which you can cope from it and come out strong.
Let’s start off with knowing how it differentiates from a normal pregnancy.
What is an ectopic pregnancy?
In a normal pregnancy, when an egg is fertilized, it moves through the fallopian tube into the uterus. This egg then attaches itself to the uterus and grows normally.
However in a ectopic pregnancy, what happens is the fertilized egg doesn’t attach to the uterus but it is implanted somewhere else, most likely in the fallopian tube itself. Although in some rare cases it can also implant itself in the ovary or cervix.
Severe problems can arise if a rupture happens. If the egg continues to grow it can burst the fallopian tube. This can lead to heavy bleeding and can be life-threatening too.
Now, Let’s talk about how you can identify and know at what stage your ectopic pregnancy is:
Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy
It begins with the positive pregnancy test just like a normal pregnancy.
You will definitely have missed your menstrual cycle and the common pregnancy symptoms will kick in like tender breasts and feeling drained.
However it is at about 4-10weeks of this pregnancy that you will have symptoms which show things are all normal. These include:
- Continuous and strong pain in the abdomen
- You will suffer from vaginal bleeding and this blood is lighter in color than menstrual bleeding. People tend to confuse it with menstrual bleeding if they aren’t aware of the ectopic pregnancy.
- One of the common signs of internal bleeding is a shoulder tip pain. The irritation to the phrenic nerve leads to this kind of pain.
- You will suffer from severe pain when you try to pass urine. A common sign of ectopic pregnancy.
- In certain severe cases, fainting or collapse can also occur and would require a medical emergency.
- You will also most likely suffer from Pelvic or belly pain. This pain starts off sharply at one side and this then spreads and moves into the belly.
Aside from this, some other signs of internal bleeding that you should look out for:
- pale skin
Also, in case of ectopic pregnancy, a fallopian rupture can happen between 6 to 16 weeks of pregnancy. If not treated on time, it can lead to severe complications.
What leads to an ectopic pregnancy?
One of the major reasons why ectopic pregnancy happens is due to damage to the fallopian tubes. Once the egg is fertilized, there may be some concerns which is why it didn’t smoothly pass into the uterus.
This causes for the egg to remain in the tube and start growing there.
So what are the ways in which a fallopian tube is damaged?
- Smoking- One of the worst habits that affect your reproductive system’s efficiency. It is advised by doctors for patients who wish to get pregnant to quit smoking at the earliest.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – If you have Chlamydia or gonorrhea, this is an infection that will likely occur.
- Endometriosis is another condition which can lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes.
- Surgery of the fallopian tubes due to any medical concerns can impact the egg’s ability to move smoothly.
- Fertility treatments can also impact the pelvic area like vitro fertilization.
- Previous ectopic pregnancy: In case you have had ectopic pregnancies before, chances are almost 10percebt that you will likely have another one.
- Age Matters: Older women are more likely to face ectopic pregnancy as compared to younger ones.
- Infection: Having certain infections in the fallopian tube, uterus and ovaries can increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. Especially having pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can lead to certain infections which affect your fallopian tubes.
- Contraceptive pills: use of contraceptives pills and methods also increase the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.
- Tubal ligation: Tubal ligation is surgery received by a woman to prevent further pregnancy. If she does then become pregnant, the pregnancy could be ectopic.
Diagnosis of Ectopic Pregnancy
So once you have started experiencing these symptoms, the following are ways in which it will be determined if you are in fact having an ectopic pregnancy or not:
- Firstly a urine test will determine if you are indeed pregnant.
- Once that has been dealt with, a pelvic exam will be done to check the tenderness of your belly growth.
- A blood test will then check the level of pregnancy hormone. And it will be repeated after every 2days. In the early pregnancy, this hormone ‘hCG’ will continuously double every 2days.
- If you have low levels, the diagnosis is that it’s an ectopic pregnancy.
- Your doctor will then conduct an ultrasound which will show clear images of what is inside the belly. These images will show the uterus at 6weeks of your pregnancy.
Treatment of an Ectopic Pregnancy
Once it has been determined that your pregnancy is ectopic, you will need immediate medical attention.
The two major treatments your doctor will suggest- medicine and surgery.
The treatment plan is quickly implemented so that your health isn’t affected further as it can be life-threatening.
When to take medicines:
If the pregnancy has been detected early before any complications have set in and the tube isn’t damaged, you will likely be put on medication.
In such cases, you will get a few shots of medicines that will terminate the pregnancy.
It can lead to the avoidance of surgery but it causes side effects.
After starting off the medication, your doctor will then ask you for some follow-up blood tests. This is done to make sure the shot is working properly.
When to have surgery:
In case of a pregnancy that is well off into more than a few weeks, surgery is definitely the better and safer option. Usually the doctor will suggest the procedure ‘laparoscopy’ – it is a surgery that basically works on doing a few small incisions in your belly.
In case there have been many complications, your doctor might need to make even larger incisions so to ensure the complications have been tackled properly.
Home care after surgery
Once your surgery has been conducted already, your doctor will provide specific instructions to ensure your incision surgery leads to proper healing.
It is imperative that your incisions are clean and dry, healing in a proper way. Make sure there are no infections and check for the same on a daily basis. Warning signs to look out:
- Excessive bleeding that won’t stop
- Foul-smell that isn’t going away
- Area is irritated
- There is redness and swelling which won’t go away
- Light vaginal bleeding is normal but keep a lookout for excessive bleeding that won’t stop
Other self-imposed precautionary measures to take on:
- Make sure you don’t lift anything more than 10pounds
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Have plenty of pelvic rest
- If you feel discomfort and pain out of the ordinary, it is best to consult a doctor
Complications of an Ectopic Pregnancy
Internal bleeding: A woman who has an ectopic pregnancy and does not receive timely diagnosis or treatment is more likely to experience severe internal bleeding. This can lead to shock and serious outcomes.
Damage to fallopian tubes: Delayed treatment can also result in damage to the fallopian tube, significantly increasing the risk of future ectopic pregnancies.
Depression: This can result from grieving over the loss of the pregnancy and worrying about future pregnancies.
It is important to remember that pregnancy remains possible even if a fallopian tube is removed. If both tubes are removed, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) remains an option if a woman wishes to conceive a child.
What to expect after an ectopic pregnancy
It is always hard to lose a child, no matter what stage of the pregnancy. And even in an ectopic pregnancy, you will need plenty of time to grief and come to terms with what happened.
You should get a strong support system to help you cope with all the help you need.
One of the things you need to know is that you are at high risk for depression after an ectopic pregnancy. If you feel you might be having any symptoms of depression, be sure to get consultation sessions with a specialist and tackle it soon. The sooner the better even.
Also having concerns about your fertility is common. Get the knowledge and expertise needed to get a complete checkup and more information on what the next step should be.
Can I get pregnant again after an ectopic pregnancy?
One of the most common concerns a person has is once they have been subjected to an ectopic pregnancy, will they have healthy pregnancies in the future?
Usually the answer is good- you can have a normal pregnancy in the future.
However the exact situation depends on every individual case. If you had to have your fallopian tubes removed or they were scarred, chances are you won’t get pregnant again easily.
Also if you have had an ectopic pregnancy, chances are you will have another one in the future.
However in any case if you do get pregnant again, make sure to let your doctor know of your previous ectopic pregnancy. This will lead to consistent and regular testing in the first weeks of the pregnancy to detect if there are any problems or no.
While extremely hard, the best option usually is for the termination of the pregnancy. However due to the advancement of technology and better medicine practices, even after an ectopic pregnancy, you can very well hope for a normal pregnancy and healthy babies.
Make sure to discuss all aspects with your doctor to ensure your medical history and health and symptoms are well-looked after, whether in an ectopic pregnancy or if you are planning for another pregnancy after ectopic pregnancy.
Due to advances in the early diagnosis and treatment of ectopic pregnancy, life-threatening situations from this condition have heavily subsided. Talk to your doctor and know your options.