What is an ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms

Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy usually appear two to four weeks after a woman has missed her menstrual period. Irregular spotting of blood from the vagina is one of the earliest symptoms. This is frequently followed by sharp, continuous pains on one side of the lower abdomen. However, the woman may experience no unusual symptoms or pain even up to the point of rupture.

Sudden, sharp, severe pain in the lower abdomen accompanied by rapid heartbeat and backache are signs that the ectopic pregnancy has ruptured. The mother may also faint.

An ectopic pregnancy can be discovered during a pelvic examination. The doctor may find a tender swelling on one side of the pelvis, and movement of the uterus or ovaries during this examination may cause pain. If the doctor highly suspects an ectopic pregnancy, the woman will be hospitalized immediately.

An ultrasound of the pelvic structures may reveal the location of an ectopic pregnancy. Blood that has leaked from the ectopic pregnancy into the abdominal cavity can be detected by inserting a hollow needle through the wall of the vagina beneath the cervix and drawing off the blood. The diagnosis can be confirmed by inserting a laparoscope (a lighted, tubelike instrument) into the abdominal cavity through a small incision made below the navel. This allows the doctor to look directly at the pelvic organs and precisely locate the ectopic pregnancy.

Treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is the surgical removal of the embryo. When the pregnancy is in a fallopian tube, the entire tube and sometimes the ovary must be removed to stop bleeding. However, it is sometimes possible to remove the affected portions and reconstruct the tube so it functions normally in the future.

A woman who has had one ectopic pregnancy has a 15 percent chance of having a second one. Women with a previous history of ectopic pregnancy should see the doctor as soon as they suspect they are pregnant so the doctor can locate the embryo. And they should be especially watchful for symptoms of ectopic pregnancy.

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