As you probably know, an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy implanted somewhere other than the uterus) can be extremely dangerous. Over 98% of ectopic pregnancies are tubal pregnancies, meaning they are implanted in the fallopian tubes, and tubal pregnancies that rupture can cause severe internal bleeding and other problems. Ectopic pregnancies must be treated at once upon detection, usually via surgical or medical treatment.
But how do you know you have an ectopic pregnancy? What are the signs and symptoms of tubal pregnancy? Here is what UpToDate, an electronic reference source for doctors and patients, has to say:
"Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy, when they occur, appear early in pregnancy, often before the woman realizes she is pregnant. The most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- A missed menstrual period
- Vaginal bleeding, which may be minimal
- Symptoms of pregnancy (such as breast tenderness, frequent urination, or nausea)
However, over 50% of women have no symptoms until the fallopian tube ruptures. Following rupture of the tube, the woman may experience severe pain and very heavy vaginal bleeding. Lightheadedness or dizziness may occur first, followed by a drop in blood pressure, fainting, and shock."
As you can see, the list of ectopic pregnancy symptoms before rupture is nearly identical to the symptoms of a normal pregnancy, so it's not terribly surprising that so many women don't realize they have an ectopic pregnancy until it ruptures. Still, that's also why it's so important to seek medical treatment if you have any suspicion that you might have an ectopic pregnancy. If you have any nagging concerns about cramping that seems to be located on one side of your abdomen, for example, go in for a checkup just to be on the safe side -- and always, always go to the E.R. right away if you have any of the signs of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
Here are some questions you might have:
How can I tell the difference between ectopic pregnancy pain and normal pregnancy cramping?
Often, you can't tell the difference. That's why it's important to check with your doctor if you are concerned about your cramping, especially if the discomfort seems to be located more toward one side of your lower abdomen.
How can my doctor determine whether I have an ectopic pregnancy?
Doctors can use a combination of hCG blood tests, ultrasound, and sometimes pelvic examination to figure out whether you have a tubal pregnancy. Sometimes it isn't immediately obvious in the early stages, so multiple blood tests or sonograms over a period of days may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Will I need surgery if I have an ectopic pregnancy?
It's possible that you might need surgery, but some ectopic pregnancies can be treated with medication. If you do have an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor will determine the appropriate treatment.
Want to learn more? See UpToDate's topic, "Patient information: Ectopic (tubal) pregnancy," for additional in-depth medical information.
Tulandi, Togas. "Patient information: Ectopic (tubal) pregnancy." UpToDate. Accessed: Nov 2009.