What is an Ectopic Pregnancy (‘Tubal Pregnancy’)?

After conception, the fertilised egg exits the fallopian tubes and attaches itself to the lining of the uterus where the fetus will grow and develop. In most cases, the attachment or implantation occurs on the endometrium of the uterus and the fetus has enough space to grow as the uterus stretches and expands. However in an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilised egg does not attach to the endometrium of the uterus. Implantation may occur elsewhere, usually in the fallopian tubes (tubal implantation or ‘tubal pregnancy’) and less commonly in the cervix, ovary or abdomen.

Causes and Risk Factors

Ectopic pregnancy is more likely in women with previous gynecological disorders, especially those who have undergone related surgical procedures or used certain drugs like fertility drugs. Any inflammation or infection of the female reproductive system may cause an ectopic pregnancy, especially if it affects the fallopian tubes. Sexually transmitted diseases, like Chlamydia or gonorrhea, that are left untreated may also increase the risk . Abortions, even a legal medical abortion, can increase the chances of an ectopic pregnancy especially in women who have undergone several abortions. Women who have previously suffered an ectopic pregnancy are also at a higher risk.

Signs and Symptoms

In most cases, an ectopic pregnancy initially appears like a normal pregnancy with the usual signs and symptoms of being pregnant.

With time this can progress to mild symptoms like slight pain and discomfort, light vaginal bleeding and cramping on the affected side especially during movement. An ectopic pregnancy requires specialist medical care and your doctor will have to conduct an ultrasound scan to confirm an ectopic pregnancy. As the condition progresses, more severe symptoms may present including severe bleeding, unbearable pain, changes in blood pressure, dizziness and fainting spells. An ectopic pregnancy can be fatal if the appropriate medical attention is not available.

A tubal pregnancy often appears similar to a threatened miscarriage. If you are pregnant and experiencing even light spotting and mild pain, it is important to visit your doctor for an immediate examination. Bed rest which is helpful in a threatened miscarriage will not resolve an ectopic pregnancy and medical intervention is necessary to prevent more serious complications.