Ectopic Pregnancy

Nationwide Cerebral Palsy Resource Network

Pregnancy begins at the moment when an ovary releases an egg into one of her fallopian tubes. Once the egg meets with sperm and is fertilized, it then attaches, or implants, onto the lining of the uterus and continues to grow and develop for the next nine months. However, in about 2 percent of pregnancies, a fertilized egg implants in a place other than the uterus, most often in one of the fallopian tubes. Occasionally, an egg can implant in an ovary, the cervix or the belly. When an egg implants anywhere outside of the uterus, it is known as an ectopic pregnancy.

For women whose ectopic pregnancy goes undetected or undiagnosed, it’s possible for the growing embryo to cause the fallopian tube to burst. Without prompt medical intervention, this can lead to severe hemorrhaging and even death. If negligent medical professionals failed to diagnose ectopic pregnancy, please call Stern Law, PLLC at (800)462-5772 for a free consultation to discuss your legal options. 

What are the causes and risk factors associated with an ectopic pregnancy?

Most often, an ectopic pregnancy is caused by a damaged fallopian tube, which may hinder the ability for a fertilized egg to successfully pass through it to reach the uterus for implantation.  It’s important to understand that there are a number of contributing factors that may explain why a fallopian tube may be damaged, such as:

  • Cigarette smoking;
  • Advanced maternal age;
  • Infection of the reproductive organs;
  • A tubal ligation;
  • Abnormally shaped fallopian tubes;
  • Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia;
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease;
  • Endometriosis;
  • Fertility drugs and treatments such as in vitro fertilization;
  • Previous surgeries on the fallopian tubes;
  • Scar tissue;
  • Chemical exposure;
  • A pregnancy that occurs despite the use of oral contraceptives.

What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?

In the beginning of an ectopic pregnancy, most women experience the same symptoms they would in the case of a normal pregnancy, such as a missed menstrual cycle, nausea, fatigue and tender breasts. However, as an ectopic pregnancy begins to progress, certain key signs begin to appear, such as:

  • Moderate to severe pelvic and/or abdominal pain, which may worsen when you move;
  • Pelvic cramping, especially on one side;
  • Moderate to severe vaginal bleeding;
  • Spotting;
  • Lower back pain;
  • Extreme dizziness and/or lightheadedness;
  • Low blood pressure;
  • Faintness;
  • Pain while urinating or passing stool.

If you are pregnant and happen to experience any of the above symptoms, it’s highly recommended that you speak to your doctor immediately.  An ectopic pregnancy can have life threatening consequences without proper and timely medical intervention.

How is an ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?

Although a simple urine test can diagnose a pregnancy, it will not be enough to determine whether it’s ectopic. In order to find out whether you have an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor will likely:

  • Conduct an examination of the woman’s pelvic and abdominal regions – Your doctor will check for potential growths and tenderness;
  • Order a blood test to check for low pregnancy hormone readings –  The pregnancy hormone HCG doubles during a normal pregnancy, and in an ectopic pregnancy it will remain stagnant and low;
  • Conduct an ultrasound – Your pelvis and abdominal region will undergo an ultrasound.

How is an ectopic pregnancy treated?

Once you are diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor will likely act immediately in order to prevent harm.  The most common treatments for an ectopic pregnancy are either surgery or medication to remove the embryo.  The type of intervention sought depends upon the length of time you have been pregnant.  If the condition is caught early, your doctor may prescribe an injectable medication called methotrexate to terminate the pregnancy. A blood test and several follow up visits will likely be required to determine if the medication successfully ended the pregnancy.

For an ectopic pregnancy that has advanced past the first few weeks, a surgical procedure known as a laparoscopy may be required. During a laparoscopy, the doctor will make a small incision in the belly button and manually remove the embryo from the fallopian tube. Should the ectopic pregnancy present developing or emergency risks, a greater or wider incision may be necessary to more aggressively treat the condition.

What should a woman expect after an ectopic pregnancy?

Regardless of the circumstances, losing a pregnancy is an extremely difficult situation for an expectant mother. For some women, it isn’t uncommon to experience a period of depression following the termination of their pregnancy. With this in mind, it’s highly recommended that you promptly speak with your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of depression, such as

  • Fatigue;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Change in mood;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Prolonged periods of sadness.

Women who have had an ectopic pregnancy often have significant concerns about their fertility as well as their chances of having another ectopic pregnancy. Having an ectopic pregnancy does not guarantee that you cannot have a successful pregnancy at some point in the future. It’s still important to keep in mind, however, that with the history of an ectopic pregnancy:

  • You may have difficulty getting pregnant again;
  • You have a higher risk of having another ectopic pregnancy.

If you wish to become pregnant again, it’s crucial that you inform your doctor about your previous ectopic pregnancy. This way, a doctor can test to see whether any subsequent pregnancy is normal. If it is not, a physician should take immediate measures to prevent you from being harmed.

Recommendations moving forward

Pregnant women should take the following steps if they receive a diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy:

  • Seek a second or third opinion before deciding to terminate the pregnancy;
  • Ask questions, including whether a doctor has ever diagnosed an ectopic pregnancy before;
  • Request to have a number of blood tests drawn and also, more than one ultrasound, before automatically deciding to end the pregnancy.

If you experienced an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy, you may wish to consider your legal options. For a free evaluation of your case, please call Stern Law, PLLC at (800)462-5772 or contact us online.