Woman experiencing ectopic pregnancy holding both of her hands over her stomach

Everything You Need To Know About An Ectopic Pregnancy

by Caroline Tung Richmond

You may have heard the phrase 'ectopic pregnancy' a few times before. Maybe you've read about it online or learned about it in a high school health class, but you're still a bit hazy on the details. And so, you might be asking yourself — what is an ectopic pregnancy? What are the causes? Are you at risk for having one? While learning about ectopic pregnancies may take a little time to process, it won't be long before you can recognize the symptoms and seek out medical help if you need it.

So what exactly is an ectopic pregnancy? Basically, an ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself in a woman's fallopian tube, ovary, cervix, or abdomen — anywhere outside of the uterus. If left untreated, this condition can damage or rupture pelvic organs, which may threaten the life of the mother, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. That's why it's so important for women to recognize the causes and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy — early detection may prevent surgical treatment and may save lives.

The causes of an ectopic pregnancy will vary from patient to patient. Sometimes a previous health condition, like a uterine infection or pelvic inflammatory disease, will increase your risk. Other times, an ectopic pregnancy occurs if a woman gets pregnant while using an intrauterine device (IUD) or if she smokes heavily before conception, as concluded by the Mayo Clinic. The symptoms of this condition will differ as well. At first, you might notice nausea or mild cramping, which may lead to vaginal bleeding and lightheadedness. Eventually you could experience sharp pain in your abdomen, pelvis, or shoulder, which might be a sign of a ruptured fallopian tube.

Once you suspect that you have an ectopic pregnancy, contact your health provider right away. Your doctor may ask you to come in for an exam or direct you to the emergency room, explains Dr. Seth Plancher, an OB-GYN based in New York state, in an interview with Romper. If your ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed earlier on, your doctor can administer a drug called methotrexate that allows your body to absorb the pregnant tissue. But if your condition is more severe, the American Pregnancy Association pointed out that your doctor may opt for laparoscopic surgery to remove the ectopic tissue. Unfortunately, ectopic pregnancies are not viable and must be removed to ensure the safety of the mother.

After your treatment concludes, your recovery time may last from a few days to a few weeks, depending on whether you had surgery. If you're hoping to conceive again, the good news is that many women who've had ectopic pregnancies go on to have other full-term pregnancies. "As long as you get the all-clear from your doctor, you can start trying right away," Plancher says.

Chances are likely that you won't experience an ectopic pregnancy, but it's still important to know what it is and what the symptoms are. And so, if you or anyone you know starts experiencing the side effects of an ectopic pregnancy, call a doctor right away — it can save your life or the life of someone you care about.