What Is An Ectopic Pregnancy And Is It Harmful?

An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilised egg (embryo) implants in the fallopian tube or somewhere else in the abdomen. 

In a regular pregnancy, the ovary releases an egg into the fallopian tube. It remains there for about twenty-hour hours and if it meets sperm it may be fertilised. After a couple of days, the fertilised egg travels to the uterus where it embeds itself and continues to grow into a baby.
An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilised egg (embryo) implants in the fallopian tube or somewhere else in the abdomen. Unfortunately, a pregnancy cannot continue in the case of ectopic pregnancy and it will require surgery to end the pregnancy.

With an ectopic pregnancy, the biggest risk is the fallopian tube rupturing which can lead to severe bleeding and pain.
In many cases, a woman will be completely unaware that an ectopic pregnancy has occurred for several weeks. However, there are quite a few symptoms that many women noticed in those first few weeks of early pregnancy.
Nausea or vomiting with pain can be a symptom but as it is also a symptom of pregnancy it can be overlooked. Sharp cramps in the abdomen and pain on one side can also occur, along with dizziness. Many women also noticed shoulder and neck pain. The exact cause of ectopic pregnancy, in some cases, is unknown.

The chances of an ectopic pregnancy can be greater in the following circumstances: 

- due to sexually transmitted diseases (STI’s)
- if you have previously had pelvic surgery
- if you have experienced an ectopic pregnancy in the past
- if you have undergone IVF fertility treatment

In some cases, the cause can be a physical problem within the fallopian tube. If the fallopian tube is damaged it can prevent the fertilised egg from being able to easily travel to the Uterus where a normal pregnancy should occur.
Diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy is usually made following an ultrasound scan. This allows the sonographer or doctor to clearly see the fallopian tubes and the uterus. If an ectopic pregnancy is confirmed they will recommend a treatment plan as, sadly, the pregnancy cannot continue when the embryo has implanted somewhere other than the uterus. In many cases, a combination of medication and surgery are required.

If caught early an ectopic pregnancy may be treated with an injection of a drug that stops the pregnancy from continuing and encourages the body to absorb the cells.

In the case of surgery it will more than likely be a laparoscopy. The ectopic pregnancy is removed using a very thin instrument using very small incisions. In some cases the fallopian tube may have to be removed if it is damaged.

It is possible to have a normal pregnancy after an ectopic pregnancy but it may need some extra care and precautions with a fertility specialist or team. In some cases a doctor will recommend waiting several months before trying to conceive again.

An ectopic pregnancy can be a very upsetting and traumatic experience for a woman and her close family. It is important to offer a lot of support and care as she goes through this experience.

Tracey is a happy mammy to four-year-old Billy. She is a breastfeeder, gentle parent and has recently lost five stone so healthy family eating is her passion! You can find her at www.loveofliving.ie.

Tracey Quinn

Proud mum of two who got married on Don't Tell The Bride and had an accidental home-birth (loves a good story). She's passionate about breastfeeding, positive thinking & all things cosy.

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