Ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the first stage of pregnancy and makes up over 10% of all maternal deaths. To find out why, let’s look at the difference between a healthy pregnancy and an ectopic pregnancy. We’ll need to review some key parts of the female reproductive system first:
An ovum is a mature female reproductive cell. Multiple ovums are called ova.
An egg is an ovum that has been fertilized by a man’s sperm.
Two tiny sacs called ovaries produce female sex hormones and ova.
The fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus on opposite sides. This is the path the ova takes from the ovaries to the uterus.
The uterus is another name for the womb. Pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall.
As you may know, the ovaries release an ovum into the fallopian tubes during ovulation. If the ovum is fertilized by sperm during its migration to the uterus, it will need somewhere to grow. In a healthy pregnancy, the fertilized egg will attach to the wall of the uterus and grow into a baby. The uterus has strong muscular walls that can stretch, which gives the baby enough room to grow.
What is an ectopic pregnancy?
In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg grows outside the uterus. In most cases, the fertilized egg gets stuck in the fallopian tubes on the way to the uterus and begins growing there. This condition is dangerous because the fallopian tubes are not made to hold a growing baby like the uterus is. As a result, the fallopian tube will tear if the fertilized egg continues to grow there, which can lead to internal bleeding and death.
Source: St. Luke’s Health
The diagram of a healthy pregnancy (left) shows a fertilized egg attached to the uterine lining where it is supposed to grow. The diagram of an ectopic pregnancy (right) shows a fertilized egg attached to the fallopian tube. The fallopian tube will tear if the fertilized egg continues to grow there which can lead to internal bleeding and death.
How do I know if I have an ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy has the same early signs of a healthy pregnancy such as a missed period, breast tenderness, and nausea. However, there are some key signs of an ectopic pregnancy to look out for. Light bleeding in your underwear when you aren’t expecting your period, and pain in your lower stomach between your hips are usually the first warning signs. If these signs are accompanied by lightheadedness, fainting, shoulder pain, or belly pain, seek medical care right away!
What are the risk factors?
There are many factors that can increase your risk for developing an ectopic pregnancy, such as:
History of smoking
Being over 35 years old
Becoming pregnant while you have an intrauterine device (IUD)
Previous ectopic pregnancy
While you can’t prevent an ectopic pregnancy, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk:
Using a condom during sex can prevent STI’s and may reduce the risk of PID
Don’t smoke, especially if you’re planning to become pregnant
What are the treatments?
Unfortunately, ectopic pregnancies cannot be carried until birth because the fertilized egg cannot survive outside the uterus. Also, it can be very dangerous for the mother if the fallopian tube tears. So the common treatment is to remove the fertilized egg in order to prevent serious health issues. This can be done in two ways. The first option is to take a medication that stops the growth of the fertilized egg and ends the pregnancy. The second option is to have it removed with surgery. Seeking treatment as soon as possible can save the mother’s life!