Understanding Ectopic Pregnancies

Published: 21/07/2023

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Ectopic Pregnancies

An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. 

The fallopian tubes are tubes that connect the ovaries to the womb. If a fertilised egg gets stuck within the tube the baby will not develop properly and unfortunately, it is not possible to save the pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies can be life-threatening and devastatingly need to be removed (via medication or an operation). 

In the UK approximately 1 in 80 pregnancies end up being ectopic (12,000 pregnancies per year).  The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust have actually said the true number could be closer to 30,000 as many are undiagnosed. 

What Causes an Ectopic Pregnancy?

In many cases it is not clear why ectopic pregnancy occurs, however, you are at an increased risk if you have had the below: 

  • A previous ectopic pregnancy 
  • Fertility treatment (such as IVF)
  • Have endometriosis
  • Are a smoker 
  • Older age (there is a higher risk with older women) 
  • Previous surgery on your fallopian tubes 
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (inflammation of the female reproductive system)

What are the Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy doesn't always cause symptoms and may only be detected during your pregnancy scan. If you do get symptoms, these tend to develop between weeks 4 and 12 of pregnancy. 

  • Pain on either side of your abdomen (low down)
  • Vaginal bleeding 
  • Brown watery discharge
  • Pain in the tip of your shoulder 
  • Discomfort when opening your bowels or passing urine

These symptoms isolated don't mean an ectopic pregnancy and could be due to a number of reasons. It is, however, important to rule out the risk of an ectopic pregnancy so it is important to get these symptoms checked. 

You should get emergency help if you have the following symptoms: 

  • A sharp sudden pain or intense pain in your tummy 
  • Dizzy or feel like fainting
  • Sick 
  • Looking very pale

Treatment for Ectopic Pregnancies

There are 3 main types of treatment for ectopic pregnancies. These are: 

  • Expectant management – where you are carefully monitored by a medical professional with the hope that the embryo dissolves on its own. 
  • Medication – an injection called methotrexate is used to stop the pregnancy from growing. 
  • Surgery - Keyhole surgery is used to remove the embryo and normally the fallopian tube that it is growing in.

Can you have a baby after an ectopic pregnancy?

The important thing is to take your time when trying to get pregnant again, and only do it when you feel ready. You may be advised by medical professionals to wait at least 2 periods/2 months before trying again. This is increased to 3 periods/ 3 months if you had medical management and were given the methotrexate, this is because the residue of the medication could harm the baby. 

Most women who have had an ectopic pregnancy can get pregnant again, even if 1 fallopian tube was removed. Occasionally it may be necessary to have fertility treatment such as IVF.

It is important to note that chances of having an ectopic pregnancy do increase if you have had one before, but it is still possible to get pregnant again. 

myTamarin fertility support

If you would like to speak with a fertility expert about this further and you have access to myTamarin fertility support through your employer, book a 1-1 consultation with an expert who can talk through your best options with you and support you through this difficult time. 

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