One of the most tragic events foran expectant mother – aside from miscarriage – is the discovery that hers is an ectopic pregnancy. Although many women don’t know what this means, they soon discover that it is a very serious condition that may threaten her life. There isn’t much that can be done for an ectopic pregnancy, but quick action is necessary to avoid damage to the mother or the inability to have subsequent normal pregnancies.
An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg is implanted in tissue outside of the uterus, and the child begins to develop there rather than in its usual spot in the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy can happen in the fallopian tubes, the ovary, the abdomen or in the cervix, the most common of which is inside the fallopian tube.
In most cases, an ectopic pregnancy is caused by a pre-existing condition that obstructs the fertilized egg from supplanting in the uterus. This can be caused by a cyst, a tumor, a build-up of scar tissue or another issue entirely. Regardless of the reason, the zygote begins to develop in a place that it shouldn’t. This can cause numerous problems, the least of which is discomfort in the abdomen.
It is estimated that 46% of women who experience an ectopic pregnancy have a medical history of salpingitis or pelvic inflammatory disease. The possibility of an ectopic pregnancy also becomes more likely for women who unsuccessfully use medicated IUD’s, the morning after pill or who have had tubal sterilization reversals. These things can cause problems during conception, and may not make themselves known until several weeks into the pregnancy.
Since 1970, the occurrence of ectopic pregnancies has more than quadrupled, and now is estimated at one in every forty pregnancies. This can only be attributed to the rise in technology that has been developed to prevent pregnancy. When a form of contraception is used incorrectly, or if it fails to work, the result can be an ectopic pregnancy. It is almost as if the contraception worked part way, but not fully.
The symptoms of ectopic pregnancy range from mild to severe, although women who receive proper prenatal care are more likely to discover the condition before experiencing any of the symptoms. They can include pain stretching from the abdomen to the lower back, pelvic pain, cramping, amenorrhea (the cessation of the menstrual cycle), abnormal vaginal bleeding and tenderness in the breasts. If any pain or discomfort is felt during a pregnancy, you should notify your doctor immediately so that tests can be run.
If these symptoms aren’t recognized, the condition can develop too far and result in hemorrhaging, which will cause severe pain in the abdominal area, loss of consciousness and pain in the neck and shoulders. This will also lead to massive blood loss and possibly death if not immediately treated. The uterus can rupture, causing substantial pain for the expecting mother, and she will need to be rushed to the emergency room immediately.
Treatment for an ectopic pregnancy depends on the symptoms and the speed of treatment. If rupturing has occurred, then the patient will most likely go into shock and a surgical laparoctomy is performed. This will stop the immediate loss of blood and will confirm the diagnosis of the ectopic pregnancy. The surgeon will also remove the product of conception and will repair any subsequent tissue damage. If they have been too badly damaged, removal of the fallopian tube or ovaries may be necessary.
There are non-surgical treatments available for patients who have not experienced rupturing or hemorrhaging. This is obviously the less invasive treatment, but may cause complications for later pregnancies. A injection of methotrexate is administered to induce miscarriage and the patient is monitored closely for several weeks.
Ectopic pregnancies are not able to continue to term.
Approximately 85% of women who experience an ectopic pregnancy will able to later conceive normally. In approximately 15% of women, a second ectopic pregnancy will be experienced, or the mother will naturally abort the fetus in the first trimester. Fortunately, however, the maternal death rate from an ectopic pregnancy is less than .1%.
It is almost impossible to prevent an ectopic pregnancy, but adequate prenatal care is essential to guard against further complications. Before becoming pregnant, women with scarring of the fallopian tube or ovaries may want to be examined by a physician, and medicated IUD’s may be avoided. Avoiding multiple partners and sexually transmitted diseases will also help decrease the risks.