An ectopic pregnancy otherwise known as extra-uterine pregnancy or pregnancy outside the uterus is a rare kind of pregnancy in which the fertilized egg tends to get implanted to an area that is outside the normal implantation area which is the uterus.
Generally, after sex, pregnancy begins with implantation of the egg to the uterine lining. However, in some cases, this normal event doesn’t occur, rather the egg begins to attach itself to areas that are outside the uterus and this can pose serious problems for both mother and the growing fetus.
You may then be wondering, what are the other sites where an egg can get implanted to lead to ectopic pregnancy? Mostly, the site of implantation of an ectopic pregnancy is the fallopian tube.
The fallopian tube is a tube-like structure that transports the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. Because of the site of implantation, once an egg becomes implanted in the fallopian tube, it is known as a tubal pregnancy.
At other times, the fallopian tube is not the culprit of ectopic pregnancy. In some cases, although theses cases may tend towards the minority, a fertilized egg can become implanted within the ovary, the walls of the abdomen or even the lowest part of the woman’s reproductive area which is known as the cervix.
Does an ectopic pregnancy then grow like other pregnancies? The answer is no. An ectopic pregnancy can never develop the way normal pregnancies would. In most cases, the fertilized egg won’t even survive the first few weeks of pregnancy.
In this case, most doctors don’t even term it as pregnancy and this is because, in as much as it isn’t developing as a normal pregnancy would, this ectopic pregnancy eventually becomes a growing tissue that is found around the cervix, the abdominal walls or the fallopian tube.
Once this tissue is left there, it can cause serious life-threatening circumstances and in some cases, it can lead to death. Statistics show that ectopic pregnancies usually occur in every one out of every 50 pregnancies and so in every 1000, 20 out them may turn out to be ectopic pregnancies.
What then causes ectopic pregnancies? What causes the egg to become implanted at the wrong site? The singular cause of ectopic pregnancies is what is known as wrong implantations of the fertilized eggs.
The most common ectopic pregnancy is the tubal pregnancy which occurs as a result of the fertilized egg getting stuck in the fallopian tube while it is being transported to the uterus.
This can happen when there is a damage or swelling of the fallopian tube. There are some other factors which may likely contribute to this as well and these factors include:
1. Infection and inflammation
Ever heard of sexually transmitted diseases? Well, if you have, then you should know that it is very dangerous amd can cause you to have an ectopic pregnancy. Some infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be very dangerous amd can cause an impending doom to your chances of having a baby.
Infections whether untreated or improperly treated can lead to inflammations of organs in your reproductive tract such as your cervix, your vaginal walls, your fallopian tube and so on. Once this occurs, the chances of having an ectopic pregnancy can become very high.
2. The previous occurrence of ectopic pregnancy
Once you have had an ectopic pregnancy or improper implantation before, your chances of developing it again are increased by a whooping 70%.
3. Infertility and the use of fertility treatments
Research has shown that women who have undergone IVF, and other fertility treatments are more at risk of having ectopic pregnancies.
4. Hormonal imbalance
Studies have shown that a hormonal imbalance can cause the fertilized egg to get implanted outside the uterus causing ectopic pregnancy. Everything within the human body is controlled by chemical messengers known as hormones. Once these hormones don’t direct the fertilized egg on where to go as a result of hormonal imbalance, what is most likely to occur is a hormonal imbalance.
5. Surgery done on the fallopian tubes:
Any surgery done on the fallopian tube can be referred to as tubal surgery. If a woman has undergone tubal surgery, it can cause the fallopian tube to either become scarred, closed or even damaged and as such, the fertilized egg will have improper transport to the uterus; hence, an ectopic pregnancy occurs.
6. Birth control medications and treatment
The essence of having to take any birth control treatment or medication is to avoid getting pregnant. Remember, hormones do control what goes on the body.
Hormones are ways by which the brain communicates with the other part of the body and as such, the role of birth control is to trick the brain into thinking that a baby is present within the uterus and as such stop the secretions of certain hormones which can cause the woman to get pregnant.
Asides medications, there are other methods that can be used to prevent a woman from getting pregnant. One of such methods is IUD(intrauterine device). The essence of this device is to prevent pregnancy from occurring.
If a woman gets pregnant while on birth control or while using an IUD, the female will most likely have wrong implantation leading to ectopic pregnancy. Also, some females use the tubal ligation(tying of the fallopian tubes) to prevent pregnancy. If such females get pregnant, there are high chances it is an ectopic pregnancy.
Smoking causes a lot of harm to the body and your reproductive system as a female is not spared. Smoking before pregnancy can be just as bad as smoking during pregnancy and smoking before pregnancy can lead to the wrong implantation causing ectopic pregnancies.
At the initial stage, there is a high tendency that you may not notice anything. However, some women have complained of having early signs of pregnancy which includes pregnancy, morning sickness, breast tenderness and so on.
These signs show that you are pregnant and if you take any pregnancy test during this period, you will test positive. However, this ectopic pregnancy will not continue to develop as a normal pregnancy would.
As the fertilized egg keeps growing in the wrong place, there will be more signs and symptoms that would let you know if you are carrying an extra-uterine pregnancy or not. Symptoms during the early stages of ectopic pregnancy include:
1. Pelvic pain
Sure, you can have the normal early pregnancy discomfort, however, once you begin to feel pains within your pelvic region, no matter how intense or mild it is, then you should immediately go see your doctor.
Once blood begins to leak from the fallopian tube as a result of the wrong implantation, the presence of blood within the pelvic cavity will first lead to an increasing abdominal as well as pelvic discomfort.
Then you will notice an increasing urge to always use the convenience. If the bleeding is heavy, there is a tendency that you will experience shoulder pain as blood continues to fill up the abdomen and pelvic cavity. This pain or discomfort felt at the shoulder is known as referred pain.
Most symptoms you would experience would depend on the area that gets filled with blood and the nerves which are found there as well as the irritations these nerves experience. In other words, once you begin to experience abdominal pain alongside pelvic discomfort and shoulder pain, it is time to visit your doctor to know what is going on.
Emergency symptoms of ectopic pregnancy
Once the fertilized egg continues to grow at the wrong site which is mostly the fallopian tube, it will cause the tube to rupture and tear and as such cause heavy haemorrhaging into the abdominal cavity leading to internal bleeding.
This type of bleeding if not promptly treated can lead to life-threatening situations as well as complications such as light-headedness, dizziness, fainting, shock, intense abdominal pains just to mention a few. This will, therefore, lead to complications which may cause severe damage to your fallopian tube.
When then are you advised to see a doctor?
You should see your doctor when you begin experiencing the following signs and symptoms:
- Intense pelvic and abdominal pains during the first trimester.
- Abnormal light or heavy vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting
- Shoulder pain alongside abdominal pains
Ectopic pregnancies can’t be prevented. However, there are some certain measures one can take to reduce the risk of having them. These steps include:
1. Quit smoking
If you are a heavy smoker or you like smoking, then it is time to quit before you try getting pregnant else you run the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.
2. Reduce your number of sexual partners
Having multiple sexual partners simply means you increase your chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and as such increasing your chances of having an ectopic pregnancy.
3. Always use condoms during sex
This not only decreases your chances of having any sexually-related disease, but it also reduces the chances of you having to use birth control methods and as such limit your chances of having an ectopic pregnancy.