What is an ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg develops outside the uterus. Find out more about ectopic pregnancy.

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When a fertilized egg develops outside the uterus, it's called an ectopic pregnancy The word ectopic means out of place. This is not an uncommon occurrence: One in every 100 to 150 pregnancies is ectopic.

An ectopic pregnancy most frequently occurs in one of the fallopian tubes, the structures through which the egg travels from the ovary to the uterus. When this happens, it's called a tubal pregnancy. On rare occasions, the pregnancy starts to develop in the ovary, on the cervix, or attached to the surface of a nearby organ.

The typical cause of an ectopic pregnancy is an obstruction or narrowing of a fallopian tube that prevents the fertilized egg from passing through the tube into the uterus. This can be the result of inflammation and scarring from a previous pelvic infection caused by a Gonococcus or Chlamydia infection, or it can be the result of tubal infections caused by numerous other bacteria after miscarriage or childbirth or during the use of an IUD (intrauterine contraceptive device).

Other, less common causes of tubal obstruction or blockage include abdominal infections such as appendicitis, pelvic tumors, and scar tissue formation after abdominal surgery.

Unfortunately, an ectopic pregnancy is not a viable one. In fact, it's a medical condition that can have serious complications. It can be fatal for the mother unless it is promptly treated.

If undetected, an ectopic pregnancy can rupture the tube enclosing it, leading to profuse bleeding into the abdomen. Ectopic pregnancies located in other areas, such as the ovary and cervix, can invade nearby blood vessels and cause massive bleeding. In earlier times, ectopic pregnancy was catastrophic, often leading to death. Today, with the advent of safe blood transfusions and better diagnostic methods allowing early diagnosis, death resulting from ectopic pregnancy is uncommon.