An ectopic pregnancy is categorized as any pregnancy that does not implant in the endometrium of the uterus. Most commonly, the pregnancy occurs in the fallopian tube, but may also occur in the upper uterus, abdominal cavity, cervix, or ovary. An ectopic pregnancy can be very dangerous to women.
Women at risk for an ectopic pregnancy include women who have had one previously, women with a narrowed or misshapen fallopian tube, women with endometriosis, women with pelvic tumors or pelvic scarring, and women with deformities of the uterus.
In most cases, the egg is released and fertilized within the fallopian tube. The cells begin to multiply even as it travels through the tube. In a viable pregnancy, the egg will continue on into the uterus and implant in the endometrium. If there is a narrowing or misshapen fallopian tube, the egg could become stuck. It is imperative that the pregnancy be aborted before the egg has a chance to grow so large that it ruptures the fallopian tube and causes the woman to hemorrhage.
There are few symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy which can make it difficult to diagnose. Most commonly, a woman will feel tenderness or pain (like cramping) on one side. However, the pain may also appear on both sides or in the center of the abdomen. This pain is sometimes accompanied by spotting or bleeding. Women experiencing blood loss may feel faint or dizzy.
A doctor may not be able to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy through examination alone. The doctor may feel a lump on one side of the abdomen or notice that there is tenderness to the touch. An hcg test may be ordered because hcg in an ectopic pregnancy is generally lower than in a viable pregnancy. The most accurate way to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy is through ultrasound. The ultrasound technician can view the entire uterus and see where the sac has implanted.
There is no cure for an ectopic pregnancy. The baby is not going to be viable. Therefore, it is up to the doctor to remove the fertilized egg. This may be done with medications that abort the zygote. If the ectopic pregnancy occurred outside of the fallopian tube then surgery to remove it will be necessary.
If an ectopic pregnancy is not caught early enough, the fallopian tube may rupture, causing hemorrhaging and may even lead to death. When the hemorrhaging occurs, the fallopian tube may be repaired in few cases, but is most often removed entirely.