What is a ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy, or eccysis, is a complication of pregnancy in which the embryo implants outside the uterine cavity. With rare exceptions, ectopic pregnancies are not viable. Furthermore, they are dangerous for the mother, since internal haemorrhage is a life threatening complication. Most ectopic pregnancies occur in the Fallopian tube (so-called tubal pregnancies), but implantation can also occur in the cervix, ovaries, and abdomen. An ectopic pregnancy is a potential medical emergency, and, if not treated properly, can lead to death.
About 1% of pregnancies are in an ectopic location with implantation not occurring inside of the womb, and of these 98% occur in the Fallopian tubes.
In a typical ectopic pregnancy, the embryo adheres to the lining of the fallopian tube and burrows into the tubal lining. Most commonly this invades vessels and will cause bleeding. This intratubal bleeding hematosalpinx expels the implantation out of the tubal end and is a common type of miscarriage. There is no inflammation of the tube in ectopic pregnancy. The pain is caused by prostaglandins released at the implantation site, and by free blood in the peritoneal cavity, which is a local irritant. Sometimes the bleeding might be heavy enough to threaten the health or life of the woman. Usually this degree of bleeding is due to delay in diagnosis, but sometimes, especially if the implantation is in the proximal tube (just before it enters the uterus), it may invade into the nearby Sampson artery, causing heavy bleeding earlier than usual.
If left untreated, about half of ectopic pregnancies will resolve without treatment. These are the tubal miscarriages. The advent of methotrexate* treatment for ectopic pregnancy has reduced the need for surgery; however, surgical intervention is still required in cases where the Fallopian tube has ruptured or is in danger of doing so. This intervention may be laparoscopic or through a larger incision, known as a laparotomy.
*Methotrexate, abbreviated MTX and formerly known as amethopterin, is an antimetabolite and antifolate drug. It is used in treatment of cancer, autoimmune diseases, and ectopic pregnancy.
I've suffered an ectopic pregnancy, but my hCG keeps rising.. what could be going on?
There is a chance that you are still retaining tissue from your loss, you may be going through what is called a heterotopic pregnancy, or you may be going through a persstent ectopic pregnancy, either way you should be in contact with you doctor about your concerns for testing and monitoring.
Heterotopic pregnancyIn rare cases of ectopic pregnancy, there may be two fertilized eggs, one outside the uterus and the other inside. This is called a heterotopic pregnancy. Often the intrauterine pregnancy is discovered later than the ectopic, mainly because of the painful emergency nature of ectopic pregnancies. Since ectopic pregnancies are normally discovered and removed very early in the pregnancy, an ultrasound may not find the additional pregnancy inside the uterus. When hCG levels continue to rise after the removal of the ectopic pregnancy, there is the chance that a pregnancy inside the uterus is still viable. This is normally discovered through an ultrasound.
Although rare, heterotopic pregnancies are becoming more common, likely due to increased use of IVF. The survival rate of the uterine fetus of an ectopic pregnancy is around 70%.
Successful pregnancies have been reported from ruptured tubal pregnancy continuing by the placenta implanting on abdominal organs or on the outside of the uterus.
Persistent ectopic pregnancy
A persistent ectopic pregnancy refers to the continuation of trophoplastic growth after a surgical intervention to remove an ectopic pregnancy. After a conservative procedure that attempts to preserve the affected fallopian tube such as a salpingotomy, in about 15-20% the major portion of the ectopic growth may have been removed, but some trophoblastic tissue, perhaps deeply embedded, has escaped removal and continues to grow, generating a new rise in hCG levels. After weeks this may lead to new clinical symptoms including bleeding. For this reason hCG levels may have to be monitored after removal of an ectopic to assure their decline, also methotrexate can be given at the time of surgery prophylactically.
What are some signs and symptoms I should be looking for if I do become pregnant?
Early symptoms are either absent or subtle. Clinical presentation of ectopic pregnancy occurs at a mean of 7.2 weeks after the last normal menstrual period, with a range of 5 to 8 weeks. Later presentations are more common in communities deprived of modern diagnostic ability.
Early signs include:
- Pain in the lower abdomen, and inflammation (pain may be confused with a strong stomach pain, it may also feel like a strong cramp).
- Pain while urinating.
- Pain and discomfort, usually mild. A corpus luteum on the ovary in a normal pregnancy may give very similar symptoms.
- Vaginal bleeding, usually mild. An ectopic pregnancy is usually a failing pregnancy and falling levels of progesterone from the corpus luteum on the ovary cause withdrawal bleeding. This can be indistinguishable from an early miscarriage or the 'implantation bleed' of a normal early pregnancy.
- Pain while having a bowel movement.
- External bleeding is due to the falling progesterone levels.
- Internal bleeding is due to hemorrhage from the affected tube.
More severe internal bleeding may cause:
- Lower back, abdominal, or pelvic pain.
- Shoulder pain. This is caused by free blood tracking up the abdominal cavity and irritating the diaphragm, and is an ominous sign.
- There may be cramping or even tenderness on one side of the pelvis.
- The pain is of recent onset, meaning it must be differentiated from cyclical pelvic pain, and is often getting worse.
What causes Ectopic Pregnancies?
There are a number of risk factors for ectopic pregnancies. However, in as many as one third to one half of ectopic pregnancies, no risk factors can be identified. Risk factors include: pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, use of an intrauterine device (IUD), tubal surgery, intrauterine surgery (e.g. D&C), smoking, previous ectopic pregnancy, and tubal ligation.
Will experiencing an Ectopic Pregnancy lead to fertility problems in the future?
Fertility following ectopic pregnancy depends upon several factors, the most important of which is a prior history of infertility. The treatment choice, whether surgical or nonsurgical, also plays a role. For example, the rate of intrauterine pregnancy may be higher following methotrexate compared to surgical treatment.
*** All this information was obtained by certified sources on Wikipedia.org