Ectopic pregnancies are one of the most common causes of baby loss with over 11,000 occurring each year in the UK alone (the word ectopic actually translates to “out of place”).
In a normal pregnancy, the fertilised egg attaches itself to the womb, but in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the egg actually embeds itself outside of the womb, most commonly inside one of the fallopian tubes. Sadly, when this happens, there is not usually a way to continue with the pregnancy, although there have been a few rare exceptions where an embryo has developed outside of the womb and resulted in both a healthy baby and mother.
Reasons for this happening can vary, but the chances of it occurring can be increased by smoking, scar tissue, or previous endometriosis .
An ectopic pregnancy can normally be dealt with safely, the key issue being early discovery of the misplaced egg, usually apparent between the 4th and 8th week of pregnancy. Some women experience no symptoms at all, but signs can include vomiting and diarrhea, plus tenderness and vaginal bleeding, but abdominal pain is the most common indication, and should never be ignored. An ultrasound scan is the the usual way that PUL’s (pregnancy of unknown location) are detected.
When an early diagnosis is not made, an ectopic pregnancy can become even more of a serious issue. If there is a rupture, internal bleeding may occur which usually leads to complete removal of the affected fallopian tube. If there is delayed treatment for this problem it can even, in some cases, become life threatening. Some religious cultures are against destruction of the live embryo, considering it to be immoral, although the safety of the mother usually governs the outcome.
The usual way of treating an ectopic pregnancy is to administer a drug which will stop the embryo developing and just leave it to be either discharged naturally by way of a menstrual period or absorbed back into the woman’s body, although surgery sometimes becomes necessary.
In the western world the prognosis for women suffering ectopic pregnancies is very good, with minimal maternal deaths, however in developing countries the fatalities of mothers with this condition are very much higher, it being one of the biggest killers of women of child-bearing age.
Apart from removal of the fallopian tube, future pregnancies should not be affected by having previously experienced treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, unless there have been earlier infertility problems.