In a normal pregnancy, a fertilized egg travels through a fallopian tube to the uterus. The egg attaches in the uterus and starts to grow. But in an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg attaches (or implants) someplace other than the uterus, most often in the fallopian tube. (This is why it is sometimes called a tubal pregnancy.) In rare cases, the egg implants in an ovary, the cervix, or the belly.
There is no way to save an ectopic pregnancy. It cannot turn into a normal pregnancy. If the egg keeps growing in the fallopian tube, it can damage or burst the tube and cause heavy bleeding that could be deadly. If you have an ectopic pregnancy, you will need quick treatment to end it before it causes dangerous problems.
An ectopic pregnancy is often caused by damage to the fallopian tubes. A fertilized egg may have trouble passing through a damaged tube, causing the egg to implant and grow in the tube.
Things that make you more likely to have fallopian tube damage and an ectopic pregnancy include:
Smoking. The more you smoke, the higher your risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is often the result of an infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.
- Endometriosis, which can cause scar tissue in or around the fallopian tubes.
- Being exposed to the chemical DES before you were born.
Some medical treatments can increase your risk of ectopic pregnancy. These include:
- Surgery on the fallopian tubes or in the pelvic area.
- Fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization.
In the first few weeks, an ectopic pregnancy usually causes the same symptoms as a normal pregnancy, such as a missed menstrual period, fatigue, nausea, and sore breasts.
The key signs of an ectopic pregnancy are:
- Pelvic or belly pain. It may be sharp on one side at first and then spread through your belly. It may be worse when you move or strain.
- Vaginal bleeding.
If you think you are pregnant and you have these symptoms, see your doctor right away.
A urine test can show if you are pregnant. To find out if you have an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor will likely do:
- A pelvic exam to check the size of your uterus and feel for growths or tenderness in your belly.
- A blood test that checks the level of the pregnancy hormone (hCG). This test is repeated 2 days later. During early pregnancy, the level of this hormone doubles every 2 days. Low levels suggest a problem, such as ectopic pregnancy.
- An ultrasound. This test can show pictures of what is inside your belly. With ultrasound, a doctor can usually see a pregnancy in the uterus 6 weeks after your last menstrual period