An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside of the womb (uterus). Most ectopic pregnancies occur within a fallopian tube. Other, less common locations may include the cervix, an ovary, or the abdominal cavity. This type of pregnancy cannot survive because only the uterus can support the growth of a fetus and its placenta.
Most ectopic pregnancies occur because the fallopian tube is not functioning normally.
Factors that may increase the risk ectopic pregnancy include:
- Previous ectopic pregnancies
- History of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Prior surgery on fallopian tubes or uterus
- Fertility treatments
- Abnormally-shaped uterus and/or fallopian tubes
- Presence of an intrauterine device (IUD)
- Pregnancy that occurs after a sterilization procedure (tubal ligation)
- Race: non-white
- Age: 35 or older
- Missed or abnormal menstrual period
- Abdominal pain
- Spotty vaginal bleeding
- Pain in the shoulder
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be also be done.
Tests may include:
- Pregnancy test
- Pelvic exam
- Blood tests
- Transvaginal ultrasound (to check the uterus and fallopian tubes for the presence or absence of a pregnancy)
Treatment options include:
If the ectopic pregnancy is small and has not ruptured (burst), your doctor will recommend the medicine methotrexate. This medicine prevents further growth of the ectopic pregnancy.
Surgery may be needed, especially if the ectopic pregnancy has ruptured or if it is not in the fallopian tube. During the surgery, the pregnancy will be removed.
If the pregnancy is in the fallopian tube, the doctor may be able to repair the tube. In severe cases, the fallopian tube may need to be removed.
While there are no clear ways to reduce your risk of ectopic pregnancies, it may be helpful to:
- Maintain safe sexual practices to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which can damage to the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
- Get early diagnosis and treatment of STDs.
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Daiter E. Ectopic pregnancy: overview. OBGYN.net website. Available at: http://www.obgyn.net/pb/cotm/9902/9902.htm. Published October 26, 2011. Accessed August 13, 2012.
Ectopic pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Updated April 23, 2012. Accessed August 13, 2012.
Ectopic pregnancy. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy website. Available at: http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec18/ch263/ch263e.html#sec18-ch263-ch263e-1356. Updated February 2010. Accessed August 13, 2012.
Ectopic pregnancy. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/pregnancy/ectopic-pregnancy-4259.htm. Accessed August 15, 2012.
4/22/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/: Creanga AA, Shapiro-Mendoza CK, Bish CL, Zane S, Berg CJ, Callaghan WM. Trends in ectopic pregnancy mortality in the United States: 1980-2007. Obstet Gynecol. 2011;117(4):837-843.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Andrea Chisholm
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.