An ectopic pregnancy arises when the fertilised egg implants and begins to grow, outside of the uterus. It cannot be left untreated as it can cause life-threatening bleeding. Here’s everything you need to know about an ectopic pregnancy.
An ectopic pregnancy usually occurs in one of your fallopian tubes (the tube that carries the fertilised egg from your ovaries to your uterus) and is called a tubal pregnancy. However, the egg can implant itself in other regions of the body, including the cervix, abdominal cavity and ovary.
It’s more than likely that you won’t experience any unusual symptoms at first, but they will become more prevalent as the egg grows.
Early warning signs
The first sign of an ectopic pregnancy is pelvic pain; it’s possible to experience light vaginal bleeding as well.
If blood leaks from a fallopian tube, it’s possible that you will experience:
- Abdominal pain
- Discomfort in your pelvis
- The need to have a bowel movement
If haemorrhaging occurs, it’s possible to feel shoulder pain. This is due to blood filling your abdomen and pelvis. However, symptoms are dependent on where the blood is collecting and the specific nerves that are being affected.
According to the Mayo Clinic, emergency symptoms occur if ‘the fertilised egg continues to grow in the fallopian tube; it can cause the tube to rupture. Heavy bleeding inside the abdomen is likely. Symptoms of this life-threatening event include extreme light-headedness, fainting, severe abdominal pain and shock.’
Causes and risk factors
The primary cause is a tubal pregnancy (mentioned earlier in the article). Other causes include hormonal imbalances as well as atypical development of the fertilised egg.
You are more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy if
- You suffer from STIs such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia – they can cause organ inflammation in organs near to your fallopian tubes.
- You smoke? If not, don’t start; and if you do, quit now. Smoking increases your risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.
- If you’ve had an ectopic pregnancy before, you are prone to have another.
There isn’t a way to prevent an ectopic pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you can decrease your risk if you:
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Always use a condom during sex to help prevent sexually transmitted infections and reduce your risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Don’t smoke. If you do, quit before you try to get pregnant.
Please seek emergency medical help if you have any signs or symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy.
How Marie Stopes can help you
Marie Stopes is the leader in women’s sexual and reproductive health. Every centre across South Africa offers HIV and STI testing so you can find out whether you have an STI that puts you at risk for an ectopic pregnancy.
As part of our pregnancy care services, we can perform an ultrasound to detect the exact location of your pregnancy. If the egg is developing outside of your uterus, the necessary treatment options will be explained to you.
Visit your nearest centre or contact us to make an appointment. We will happily provide you with more information symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatment of an ectopic pregnancy.