Ectopic pregnancies

Also known as a tubal pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg implants inside the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. It is an extremely serious and potentially life-threatening condition that needs urgent attention due to the risk of rupture of the fallopian tube if left.

An ectopic pregnancy is not a viable pregnancy as there is no way to move the embryo and reimplant it in the uterine wall. While all steps are taken to preserve your future fertility, removing an ectopic pregnancy does also require removing the fallopian tube in many cases.

Ectopic pregnancies present very early in pregnancy – usually by 8 weeks -and treatment options vary depending on the condition of the fallopian tube and the age of the embryo.

Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include:

  • Moderate to severe pain starting on one side of your abdomen – this may eventually spread across your entire abdomen
  • Light to heavy bleeding
  • Fainting, dizziness and weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting

Many women with ectopic pregnancies report experiencing all the symptoms of pregnancy – but in milder proportions. Many miss their period (so confirming that they’re pregnant) only to have light bleeding some time later.

Causes of an ectopic pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancies can be caused by damage to the fallopian tube (thereby slowing the passage of the egg from the ovary to the uterus) – the most common causes of this are Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and Endometriosis, or scar tissue from previous surgery.

Treatment of an ectopic pregnancy

After diagnosis – which usually involves a blood test, an ultrasound and a possible laproscope – there are two options available depending on your particular circumstances.

  • Medication – if the pregnancy is early and the fallopian tube is in good condition, an injection of methotrexate will be administered to stop the growth of the embryo
  • Surgery – the embryo is removed using laproscopy (key-hole surgery) and any damage to organs is repaired.

Once you have had an ectopic pregnancy, your chances of having another goes from 1 in 100 to 1 in 10 and this statistic continues to grow with each ectopic pregnancy. The risk of ectopic pregnancy also increases with age. However, depending on the outcome of your ectopic pregnancy and any underlying fertility issues you may have, many women go on to enjoy normal pregnancies.


This article was written by Ella Walsh for New Zealand’s leading pregnancy resource, Kidspot.

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