Women's  Healthcare Topics is a website about pregnancy and your newborn baby.

Ectopic Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

What is an Ectopic (Tubal) Pregnancy?

Learn about having an ectopic pregnancy.

Although many women with spotting in the first trimester continue on to term without any major complications, spotting that comes with cramps or severe abdominal pain can be a sign of a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy can also have virtually no symptoms, which is why scheduling your first prenatal visit is essential to the health of you and your baby.

In a regular pregnancy, your egg is fertilized in one of your fallopian tubes and then moves through the tube to the lining of your uterus, where it embeds itself and starts to grow. In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg begins to develop outside of the uterus. Because it grows outside of the womb, the pregnancy cannot develop as it should and must be treated.

About 98 percent of all ectopic pregnancies occur within one of the fallopian tubes. In rare circumstances, pregnancy can take place in other areas.

If an ectopic pregnancy in a fallopian tube is allowed to grow, it can cause the tube to burst and major internal bleeding can occur, placing the mother’s life in jeopardy.

In this extreme case, the pregnancy is treated with surgery. The ruptured tube may have to be removed, which means the woman has to rely on her remaining tube for future pregnancies.

When ectopic pregnancies are caught early and the tube has not ruptured, it can be treated medically or surgically.

Who is at Risk for an Ectopic Pregnancy?

Any woman of childbearing age can be at risk for an ectopic pregnancy, but those with abnormal fallopian tubes are at higher risk. These include women with a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, previous ectopic pregnancies, infertility, pelvic or abdominal surgery, endometriosis (a condition in which the tissue that lines your uterus grows outside the womb), sexually transmitted disease, and prior tubal surgery (like tubal sterilization).

Older women (over 35), smokers, and women who have been exposed to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) during her mother’s pregnancy are at an even higher risk for an ectopic pregnancy.

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