What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

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What is an Ectopic PregnancyOverview: An ectopic pregnancy is when pregnancy occurs somewhere other than the womb, or uterus. In an ectopic pregnancy, the baby is unable to survive and the condition presents life-threatening risks to the mother. Because other organs are unable to sustain a growing fetus, there is a high chance of internal bleeding when left untreated.   

Causes

In a normal pregnancy, a fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus, where it grows and develops into a full size fetus. With an ectopic pregnancy, the egg becomes lodged somewhere else, typically the fallopian tubes. If the developing cells are allowed to remain there, the consequences can be fatal.

The risk of an ectopic pregnancy increases in women who have had a previous ectopic pregnancy or fertility issues. Women who have unusually shaped fallopian tubes are also at an increased risk. Pelvic inflammatory disease is also another risk factor, because it causes inflammation of the reproductive organs.

According to Mayo Clinic, women implanted with an intrauterine device (IUD) such as the Mirena have a higher chance of having an ectopic pregnancy if it does occur. Mirena is also associated with pelvic inflammatory disease. An IUD is a type of contraceptive that is implanted inside the uterus for long periods of time. Although it is meant to stay in one place, there is a chance that Mirena can relocate and actually puncture, or perforate, the walls of the uterus during implantation. When this occurs, the device may no longer be effective, and women may be exposed to an increased risk of infection, scarring and organ damage.

Symptoms

At first, there may no obvious signs of that a pregnancy is ectopic. In some instances, the pregnancy appears normal and symptoms include a missed period, nausea and breast tenderness. According to Mayo Clinic, the warning signs of an ectopic pregnancy usually include:

  • abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding.
  • Extreme light-headedness or fainting

Seeking Treatment

Seek medical attention right away if you think you have an ectopic pregnancy. If allowed to continue, it will cause the fallopian tubes to burst, causing internal bleeding. If you are implanted with Mirena IUD, mention this to your physician as well. Mirena users should check monthly to make sure that the strings are in place. If you can’t find them, contact your healthcare professional because this might mean that the device has perforated the uterine wall; use back-up birth control in the meantime.