Pregnancy. It’s the perfect orchestration of biology and nothing short of a miracle. All the right pieces at just the right time creating life. It never fails to amaze, and each pregnancy is just as remarkable as the next. Unfortunately, if all the pieces don’t come together in the right way, pregnancy may not always successful. One such complication in the process of creating life is an ectopic pregnancy. Although rare, it’s important to diagnose and treat an ectopic pregnancy early on. Here are some symptoms and signs that can help you distinguish if you are experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.
What Is An Ectopic Pregnancy?
When it comes to the female reproductive cycle, a specific set of events have to take place for pregnancy to happen. About every 28 days a woman releases an egg from her ovaries, and that egg travels down her fallopian tube and into her uterus. Once there, the egg has a couple of days to hangs out until a sperm comes to fertilize it. Once fertilization happens, the egg then implants itself in the lining of the uterus. When these series of events take place, successful implantation has happened and thus starts the journey of pregnancy.
Now and then, this series of events gets disrupted. (about 1%-2% of the time). If a disruption occurs, a fertilized egg will implant itself anywhere other than the uterine wall. For example, the egg could implant in the fallopian tubes, the cervix, the ovaries, or even in the abdominal cavity. If egg implantation happens in one of those locations, then an ectopic pregnancy has taken place.
Symptoms Of An Ectopic Pregnancy
An ectopic pregnancy can be hard to distinguish because the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy closely resemble those of a normal pregnancy. Abdominal pain, a missed period, and vaginal bleeding are the three main symptoms that indicate signs of an ectopic pregnancy. These symptoms will usually come on 6-8 weeks after the pregnancy has taken place. It is common that most women will not experience all three symptoms together. If you do, however, experience any one of these symptoms, it is best to contact your OB/GYN to get checked out, as this is the best way to catch an ectopic pregnancy early on.
Persistent pain in your abdominal area can be an indicator that you may be having an ectopic pregnancy. The abdominal pain may vary in intensity, but if you notice the pain gradually worsening, this is generally a tell-tale sign of an ectopic pregnancy. Often, women may describe the abdominal ache as a stabbing pain. The pain can be felt in the general abdominal area, or the pain may be localized to one side of your abdomen. If you see an increase in abdominal pain, it is best to seek medical attention immediately as the abdominal pain could be an internal bleeding symptom.
A missed period is another sign that you may be having an ectopic pregnancy. Although this is a telltale sign of pregnancy in general, a missed period in conjunction with other symptoms such as abdominal pain can indicate an ectopic pregnancy has taken place.
If you experience vaginal bleeding, this could be an indication that an ectopic pregnancy has taken place as well. Vaginal bleeding from an ectopic pregnancy may look an feel different from your normal bleeding. Look for vaginal bleeding that is heavier or lighter than your normal period. Vaginal bleeding or spotting is not uncommon in pregnancy in general. However, you should let your doctor know if you do experience a change in your normal menstrual flow.
Another concrete and defining symptom of an ectopic pregnancy is shoulder pain. If you experience any shoulder pain alongside the three main symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, then it imperative to seek medical attention right away. This could be an indication that your ectopic pregnancy has created a rupture. When a rupture happens, internal bleeding will take place. Typically, the rupture will cause the blood to pool. When the blood pools, it can put pressure on nerve bundles. The pressure will often create discomfort or aching in your shoulders.
Going Into Shock
When a rupture due to an ectopic pregnancy goes untreated, your body may respond by going into shock. If your body has gone into shock, you may experience symptoms such as clammy hands, feeling weak or faint, and a heartbeat that is rapid, but weak. Other signs of shock include dizziness, confusion, and disorientation. If you or someone you know is showing signs of shock, get medical intervention right away. Signs of shock in an ectopic pregnancy is an indicator that you have a rupture that needs to be treated right away.
Ectopic Pregnancy. Now What?
Unfortunately, ectopic pregnancies cannot continue. An ectopic pregnancy must be terminated immediately once you have been diagnosed with one. A fertilized egg will not safely grow if it is implanted anywhere other than the uterus. Risks of rupture can cause internal bleeding in the mother. If not treated promptly, ectopic pregnancies can pose serious and possibly fatal consequences to the mother.
How Do Ectopic Pregnancies Happen?
There are several reasons an ectopic pregnancy may occur. The main reason is damage to your fallopian tubes. When an egg is released from your ovaries, it travels down your fallopian tubes to get to your uterus. There are little hairlike fibers called cilia that cover the lining of your fallopian tubes. Cilia help to move the egg down the tube and into the uterus. If there is damage to the cilia, then transport of the egg may be disrupted. This can cause a fertilized egg to get “stuck.” If this happens, the egg will implant itself in the fallopian tube lining. This type of implantation will sometimes be referred to as a tubal pregnancy.
Other factors such as sexually transmitted infections can cause ectopic pregnancies. SRI’s can cause inflammation and disrupt your reproductive organs thus disrupting the process of an egg moving successfully down your tubes. Scaring on your reproductive organs caused by birth defects or previous surgeries can also increase your risk of having an ectopic or tubal pregnancy.
Once an ectopic pregnancy has been determined, there are several treatment options available. If your ectopic pregnancy is in its early stages (there is no fetal heartbeat), and there has been no internal rupture, then a common ectopic pregnancy treatment is medication.
Methotrexate is a drug that will be administered through a shot to terminate the pregnancy. Following the shot, your doctor will want to closely monitor the hCG levels in your blood by taking blood samples. Methotrexate works to stop the growth of the pregnancy, and your body will eventually absorb the fertilized egg. By monitoring your hCG levels, your practitioner can determine whether or not the pregnancy is continuing. Often, if caught early enough, about 90% of ectopic pregnancies can be successfully terminated with methotrexate.
If medication is not an option, your doctor will likely choose to operate. The most common operation is a laparoscopic surgery to remove the ectopic pregnancy. Laparoscopic surgery involves a small camera and lighting tool. A small incision is made, and these tools are inserted to treat the pregnancy. The advantage of this type of treatment is that it allows doctors to operate using minimally invasive measures.
If a laparoscopic surgery cannot access the ectopic pregnancy, then a more invasive procedure called a laparotomy will take place. Laparotomies different from laparoscopic surgery because the incision site is bigger. Although this procedure is more invasive and requires a longer recovery time, it is much less common than a laparoscopic surgery.
Ectopic pregnancies can be scary and even traumatic if complications such as a rupture occur. The good news is, ectopic pregnancies do not determine your fertility future. If you have had the unfortunate experience of an ectopic pregnancy, you can still get pregnant and have a successful pregnancy in the future. In fact, about 90% of women who have had an ectopic pregnancy will successfully be pregnant within a year. Although prior ectopic pregnancies do increase your chances of having another one, the increase is not substantial.
Tips For Round Two
If you do wish to get pregnant again after having an ectopic pregnancy, there are some tips to follow. After treatment, work closely with your doctor to determine that your ectopic pregnancy has successfully been terminated. A simple blood test that determines your hCG levels will give you this information. Next, its best to wait four to seven months before you try and get pregnant again. This will allow your body to get back to its normal rhythm. If there was any surgical intervention, this period would allow your body to heal completely.
I hope that this article has shed some clarity on what to look for in an ectopic pregnancy.