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What is an Ectopic Pregnancy? Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

last month7 min read
Last updated: Jan 20 2023

Everything you need to know about this form of pregnancy loss. We’ll cover the signs of an ectopic pregnancy, what it feels like, and potential treatments.

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

No two people experience an ectopic pregnancy in exactly the same way.











Pregnancy loss is different for each person, both emotionally and physically.

Nonetheless, there are some common symptoms and warning signs to be aware of.

We’ll take you through symptoms, causes, and potential treatments.

This is a serious medical issue, so if you suspect an ectopic pregnancy, contact your medical team right away. If the symptoms you are experiencing are caused by something else, you’ll be able to put your mind at rest. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support.

In this article: 📝

  • What is an ectopic pregnancy?
  • What causes an ectopic pregnancy?
  • What are the warning signs of ectopic pregnancy?
  • How soon would you know if you have an ectopic pregnancy?
  • Is ectopic pregnancy a miscarriage?
  • Can a baby survive an ectopic pregnancy?
  • How long can an ectopic pregnancy last?
  • How painful is an ectopic pregnancy?

What is an ectopic pregnancy?

Pregnancy starts with a fertilized egg attaching itself to the uterus lining.

An ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg implants and grows anywhere outside the uterus instead.

This could be the fallopian tubes, ovaries, abdominal cavity, or even the cervix.

It’s important to know that an ectopic pregnancy can’t go ahead normally.

Sadly, the fertilized egg can’t survive, and the growth can lead to life-threatening complications if left untreated.

It’s something that occurs naturally, so never feel like you’ve done anything wrong if this happens to you.

It’s simply one of those things.

What causes an ectopic pregnancy?

What causes an ectopic pregnancy isn’t always clear.

The following factors are linked to higher chances of ectopic pregnancy:

  • Inflammation or scarring of the fallopian tubes, usually caused by infection or surgery
  • Previous pelvic or abdominal surgery
  • Multiple past abortions
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Genetic differences
  • Maternal age of 35 years or more
  • Medical conditions that affect the shape and function of the fallopian tubes and other reproductive organs and make it harder for the egg to travel
  • Conception aided by fertility medication
  • Smoking
  • A history of sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea or chlamydia
  • A history of ectopic pregnancies

What are the warning signs of ectopic pregnancy?

You may not notice any signs of ectopic pregnancy at first.

Initial warning signs are increasing pelvic pain or stomach cramps.

This is often accompanied by bleeding or spotting, which could look like a period.

Nausea and breast soreness are also common ectopic pregnancy symptoms.

Of course, these are also pregnancy symptoms in the first trimester.

So these things shouldn’t be a cause for concern on their own.

If blood starts leaking from the fallopian tube, you might feel a greater urge to poop, as well as shoulder pain on either side of your body.

Other warning signs of ectopic pregnancy include:

  • Sharp waves of pain across your stomach, the tip of your shoulder, neck, or pelvis
  • Pain (either mild or severe) on just one side of your stomach
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding, which can be light or heavy
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Rectal pressure (the urge to go to the toilet more often and discomfort when peeing or pooping)

It’s rare, but an ectopic pregnancy can also result in a negative pregnancy test result.

How soon would you know if you have an ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic pregnancy symptoms don’t always appear.

You might only find out about an ectopic pregnancy at your first ultrasound scan.

If you do have signs of an ectopic pregnancy, they usually occur between the fourth and twelfth week of pregnancy.

They are most common six to eight weeks after your last period.

If you’re pregnant and have any of the symptoms we’ve listed, seek medical advice.

They could be signs of an emergency needing treatment as soon as possible.

Your doctor will probably perform an ectopic pregnancy ultrasound if they suspect anything.

They might also do a blood test, which checks for ectopic pregnancy HCG levels and progesterone.

If you’re in severe pain or experiencing heavy bleeding, your doctor might not have time to perform these steps.

If the fallopian tube ruptures, this can cause severe internal bleeding.

So they’ll want to perform emergency surgery ASAP.

Is ectopic pregnancy a miscarriage?

Note: We’re using the term “miscarriage” rather than our preferred “pregnancy loss” here to help people find this information.

When an ectopic pregnancy occurs, the embryo cannot survive.

This means the pregnancy will be lost.

Ectopic pregnancy symptoms often mimic a miscarriage.

But the key difference is while miscarriages aren’t always life-threatening to the mother, an ectopic pregnancy can be fatal.

One of the main risks is the fallopian tube bursting, which causes severe internal bleeding.

An ectopic pregnancy isn’t a developing pregnancy.

While a fetus in an ectopic pregnancy can sometimes survive for several weeks, complications occur long before it can live independently.

Can a baby survive an ectopic pregnancy?

Unfortunately, no.

A baby can’t survive an ectopic pregnancy.

A fertilized egg can’t grow anywhere other than the uterus, meaning it will never develop into a fully formed baby.

Ectopic pregnancies aren’t safe for the mother either.

It’s important to remove the embryo for their immediate health and for future healthy pregnancies.

How long can an ectopic pregnancy last?

Wherever the embryo implants, the structure holding it usually ruptures between six to sixteen weeks.

As a result, an untreated ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency.

Quick treatment reduces the chances of complications.

There are three main ectopic pregnancy treatments, which will be administered depending on where the ectopic pregnancy is found and how it develops.

These are:

  • Expectant or active management: Your doctor will carefully monitor you and use either medication or surgery if the fertilized egg doesn’t dissolve naturally.
  • Medications: This usually involves injections of drugs such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex), which stops the ectopic pregnancy from progressing.
  • Ectopic pregnancy surgery: A laparoscopy (known as “keyhole surgery”) is done under general anesthetic to remove the fertilized egg and repair or remove any damage to the impacted fallopian tube.

Your doctor will recommend a specific treatment based on your symptoms and test results.

They should explain the risks and benefits of each option, including how they impact future pregnancies.

How painful is an ectopic pregnancy?

Pain from an ectopic pregnancy can range anywhere from mild and dull to sharp and severe.

It can also occur on one side of your stomach or all over.

Equally, pain might happen in the shoulder or neck, particularly if blood from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy starts building up and impacting nerve tissue.

An ectopic pregnancy is painful, not just from the physical side, though.

Pregnancy loss in any form, no matter how early or late, can feel devastating.

It’s important to take care of yourself after an ectopic pregnancy,

Get plenty of rest, eat well, and reach out to your support network.

Giving yourself time to grieve will help you process the loss.

Your doctor might also recommend counseling or support groups in your area.

If you’d like to chat with people with similar experiences, the Peanut community is always here for you. ❤️

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