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Definition

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside of the uterus. Most ectopic pregnancies occur within a fallopian tube. Other, less common locations may include the cervix, an ovary, or the abdominal cavity. This type of pregnancy cannot survive. Only the uterus can support the growth of a fetus and its placenta.

Ectopic Pregnancy

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Causes

Many ectopic pregnancies occur because the fallopian tube is not functioning normally.

Risk Factors

Ectopic pregnancies are more common in women over 35 years old and those who are non-Caucasian. Other factors that may increase your chance of ectopic pregnancy include:

Symptoms

Ectopic pregnancy may cause:

  • Missed or abnormal menstrual period
  • Abdominal pain
  • Spotty vaginal bleeding
  • Pain in the shoulder
  • Fainting
Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be also be done.

Tests may include:

  • Pregnancy test
  • Pelvic exam
  • Blood tests
  • Transvaginal ultrasound to check the uterus and fallopian tubes for the presence or absence of a pregnancy
Treatment

Treatment options include:

Medications

If the ectopic pregnancy is small and has not ruptured (burst), your doctor will recommend the a medication that prevents further growth of the ectopic pregnancy.

Surgery

Surgery may be needed, especially if the ectopic pregnancy has ruptured or if it is not in the fallopian tube. During the surgery, the pregnancy will be removed.

If the pregnancy is in the fallopian tube, the doctor may be able to repair the tube. In severe cases, the fallopian tube may need to be removed.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of an ectopic pregnancy:

  • Maintain safe sexual practices to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) , which can damage to the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
  • Get early diagnosis and treatment of STDs.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://www.sogc.org

Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References:

Ectopic pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 23, 2012. Accessed August 13, 2012.

Ectopic pregnancy. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/abnormalities-of-pregnancy/ectopic-pregnancy. Updated February 2010. Accessed August 13, 2012.

Ectopic pregnancy. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/ectopic-pregnancy. Accessed August 15, 2012.

4/22/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Creanga AA, Shapiro-Mendoza CK, Bish CL, Zane S, Berg CJ, Callaghan WM. Trends in ectopic pregnancy mortality in the United States: 1980-2007. Obstet Gynecol. 2011;117(4):837-843.



Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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