An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside of the 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. Only the uterus can support the growth of a fetus and its placenta.
Many ectopic pregnancies occur because the fallopian tube is not functioning normally.
Ectopic pregnancies are more common in women over 35 years old and those who are non-Caucasian. Other factors that may increase your chance of ectopic pregnancy include:
- Previous ectopic pregnancies
- History of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and related scar tissue
- Prior surgery on fallopian tubes or uterus and related scar tissue
- Fertility treatments
- Abnormally-shaped uterus and/or fallopian tubes
- Presence of an intrauterine device (IUD)
- Pregnancy that occurs after a sterilization procedure—tubal ligation
Ectopic pregnancy may cause:
- Missed or abnormal menstrual period
- Abdominal pain
- Spotty vaginal bleeding
- Pain in the shoulder or neck due to irritation of the breathing muscle by blood from a rupture ectopic pregnancy
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be also be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Pregnancy test
- Pelvic exam
- Blood tests
Images may be taken of your uterus and fallopian tubes. This can be done with a transvaginal ultrasound.
Treatment options include:
If the ectopic pregnancy is small and has not ruptured (burst), a medication that prevents further growth of the ectopic pregnancy may be advised.
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.
To help reduce your chance of an ectopic pregnancy:
- 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.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Ectopic pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 9, 2016. Accessed June 7, 2016.
Ectopic pregnancy. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/abnormalities-of-pregnancy/ectopic-pregnancy. Updated January 2014. Accessed June 7, 2016.
Ectopic pregnancy. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/ectopic-pregnancy. Accessed June 7, 2016.
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 June 2016 by Marcie Sidman, MD
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.