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What is an ectopic pregnancy?
In a normal pregnancy, the fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube and implants into the lining of the uterus. When implantation occurs outside of the uterine lining, either inside the fallopian tube, or rarely in another area such as the ovary, the cervix or the stomach, it is known as an ectopic pregnancy.
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What causes an ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy is usually caused by a damaged fallopian tube. Scar tissue from surgery or disease can impede the fertilized eggs progress causing it to sit in the fallopian tube for too long, leading to implantation in the tube rather than the uterus. Other causes that can contribute to an ectopic pregnancy are in-vitro fertilization, endometriosis, exposure to the chemical DES before your own birth and even smoking.
Another significant risk factor for ectopic pregnancy is tubal ligation. Because the fallopian tubes are surgically altered in this procedure, scar tissue can form that allows sperm access to the egg but prevents the egg from exiting the tube.
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What are the signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?
Ectopic pregnancies are difficult to diagnose in their early stages. The symptoms mimic those of a regular pregnancy -- missed period, nausea, sore breasts and fatigue. The key symptoms that can lead to an early diagnosis are severe belly or pelvic pain and heavy vaginal bleeding.
Your doctor may order an ultrasound if an ectopic pregnancy is suspected. Other tests you may undergo are blood tests to check HCG levels and a pelvic exam to gauge the size of your uterus and to check for any abnormal growths.
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How is an ectopic pregnancy treated?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment that can save an ectopic pregnancy. Due to the location of implantation, ectopic pregnancies are extremely dangerous. If a pregnancy in the fallopian tube continues it can cause the tube to become permanently damaged, and it may possibly rupture.
What are the symptoms of rupture with ectopic pregnancy? A rupture of this nature can lead to severe and dangerous bleeding and the loss of the tube. If you are experiencing severe pelvic or abdominal pain, accompanied by vaginal bleeding, see your doctor immediately.
Treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is dependent on how far along the pregnancy is. For very early pregnancies, a drug called methotrexate can be administered. One or more doses may be necessary, and there are side effects. For pregnancies that have progressed beyond the first few weeks, surgery is the safer option and is often done laparoscopically.
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Care for after an ectopic pregnancy
As with any medical condition, follow your doctor's prescribed treatment. Just like any miscarriage, you may experience some extreme emotions such as sadness or guilt. Reach out to family and friends that can support you during this tough time. You should consult with your doctor about the optimum time to wait before attempting to get pregnant again, your risk for infertility and your risk of another tubal pregnancy.