Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic Pregnancy: Overview

An ectopic pregnancy is one that occurs outside of the uterus, usually in the Fallopian tubes.  It is considered a medical emergency requiring hospital admission.

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97% of ectopic pregnancies occur in the Fallopian tubes.

Incidence; Contributing Risk Factors

Ectopic pregnancies make up approximately 1% of pregnancies.

Factors that increase the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy include:

  • assisted reproductive techniques
  • a history of ectopic pregnancy
  • having undergone a reversal of sterilization
  • inflammation caused by endometriosis
  • previous pelvic inflammatory disease
  • adhesions resulting from infection
  • using an IUD for contraception (Note also: if an IUD fails, the risk of ectopic pregnancy is around 50%)
  • using a progestogen-only contraceptive which then fails

Signs and Symptoms

Aside from those mentioned below, other symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include:

  • urinary symptoms
  • passage of tissue through the vagina
  • rectal pain or pressure during defecation
  • pelvic or abdominal tenderness
  • adnexal tenderness
  • enlarged uterus
  • rebound tenderness
  • cervical tenderness
  • pallor
  • abdominal distension
  • tachycardia and/or hypotension (related to hypovolemia)
  • shock or collapse

Diagnosis and Tests

When an ectopic pregnancy is present, the signs are not always obvious.  It should always be considered as a possibility in women of reproductive age.

A differential diagnosis should consider 'threatened miscarriage' and ectopic pregnancy.  In the former, vaginal bleeding is the main symptom and pain may come later as the cervix dilates.  In ectopic pregnancies, the pain usually comes first and vaginal bleeding is less significant – and sometimes absent.

Human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) levels are often tested.  Conservative management may be appropriate if the levels of hCG are falling and the patient is clinically well.

Note: Due to increased risk of rupture of an ectopic pregnancy following palpation, internal examination should normally be avoided if ectopic pregnancy is suspected.  The safest and most accurate method for detecting an ectopic pregnancy is transvaginal ultrasound: it can identify the location of the pregnancy and even detect any fetal heartbeat.

Treatment and Prevention

Single-dose methotrexate treatment appears to be as effective as surgery.  It can be used in cases where there is no significant pain, the ectopic pregnancy has not ruptured, the adnexal mass is < 35mm in size, there is no detectable fetal heartbeat, no normal (intrauterine) pregnancy can be seen on an ultrasound scan, and serum hCG < 1500 IU/L. A repeat injection may be required, and there are some side-effects to be aware of.

In other cases, laparoscopic surgery is generally used.

Prognosis; Complications; Seek medical attention if...

When detected sufficiently early, prognosis is excellent.  Most women are now diagnosed before tubal rupture, which results in a much improved outcome – including tubal preservation and the potential for future fertility.

In the West, only about 1-in-500 cases of ectopic pregnancy result in maternal death, with most of these being the result of substandard care.

Following an ectopic pregnancy, the risk of another ectopic pregnancy is about 10-20% and the chance of a successful intrauterine pregnancy is about 70%.

If left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening: tubal or uterine rupture can lead to massive hemorrhage, shock, disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC), and possible death.

Common surgical complications are also a possibility.

Women with a confirmed pregnancy should seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • abdominal pain and/or tenderness
  • pelvic tenderness
  • 'cervical excitation' found during pelvic examination
  • vaginal bleeding

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Ectopic Pregnancy:

Symptoms - Abdomen

Symptoms - Bowel Movements

Symptoms - Female

Symptoms - Gas-Int - General

Symptoms - General

Dizziness when standing up

If the ectopic pregnancy has ruptured, profuse bleeding will occur.  This may lead to excess blood loss and symptoms of hypovolemic shock (hemorrhagic shock), including dizziness upon standing.

Symptoms - Reproductive - Female Cycle

Symptoms - Reproductive - General

(Possible) ectopic pregnancy

The chances of developing an ectopic pregnancy are significantly increased in women who have already had one.

Symptoms - Skeletal

Bilateral/minor/unilateral shoulder pain

Shoulder tip pain can be a symptom of ectopic pregnancy.

Conditions that suggest Ectopic Pregnancy:


Pregnancy-Related Issues

A heterotopic pregnancy is a rare occurrence in which one fetus has implanted outside the uterus (an ectopic pregnancy), while the other has implanted normally in the uterus.

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Risk factors for Ectopic Pregnancy:

Symptoms - Reproductive - General

Being in late pregnancy or being in mid-pregnancy (confirmed)

A second trimester unruptured tubal pregnancy is a rare – but nevertheless possible – occurrence.

Ectopic Pregnancy can lead to:


Ectopic Pregnancy could instead be:


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Weak or unproven link: may be a sign or symptom of; is very occasionally misdiagnosed as
Weak or unproven link:
may be a sign or symptom of; is very occasionally misdiagnosed as
Strong or generally accepted link: is often a sign or symptom of; often leads to
Strong or generally accepted link:
is often a sign or symptom of; often leads to
Definitely or absolutely counter-indicates: strongly contraindicates; decreases risk of
Definitely or absolutely counter-indicates:
strongly contraindicates; decreases risk of
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