A pregnancy is supposed to be a magical experience that will result in love and happiness never felt in anything else in the world. Unfortunately, not every pregnancy can be the same.
For a normal pregnancy to occur, the sperm interacts with the egg released from the ovary and then the fertilized attaches to the walls of the uterus. In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg does not attach itself to the uterine wall. Instead, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the opening of the cervix, fallopian tube or the abdominal cavity.
An ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency because it has the potential to result in significant bleeding and even death. When a woman presents to the doctor with a missed period, the pregnancy test may be the first sign of an ectopic pregnancy. An ultrasound is usually done to confirm an ectopic pregnancy.
The exact reason why an ectopic pregnancy occurs is not known, but several factors can increase the risk of ovulatory problems that result in an ectopic pregnancy. These consist of:
- Scarring of the fallopian tubes from a prior medical condition, infection, or surgery
- Use of the intrauterine device
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (i.e., gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia)
- Birth defects
- History of endometriosis
- Use of fertility drugs
- Maternal age of more than 35
- Prior abortion
- Prior history of an ectopic pregnancy
The majority of women miss their period and within a few weeks may present with symptoms of ectopic pregnancy. Most women have symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, but in some rare cases, an ectopic pregnancy may not present with any symptoms. In such a scenario, a woman may think she is pregnant because the only indicator for her is a missed period, but once the testing is done, it turns out to be an ectopic pregnancy.
If you are concerned of having an ectopic pregnancy, then there are things to be on the lookout for. Here are the nine symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy:
1. Missed Period
This is one of the most common ectopic pregnancy symptoms. It’s also one that leads to the misperception that a woman is pregnant. Many times, a sexually active woman may think she is pregnant if she misses her period, but it might turn out to be a false alarm.
2. Morning (All Day) Sickness
Nausea and vomiting are not specific to an ectopic pregnancy; these symptoms are common in both a normal and ectopic pregnancy. The presentation of nausea and vomiting is also a major reason why many women believe they are pregnant when that is actually not the case.
3. Abdominal Pain
Most women will present with some type of lower abdominal pain or discomfort. The discomfort is most common in the lower abdomen and in some cases, the upper abdomen. The pain is often moderate to severe and is often the key reason why women seek medical assistance.
4. Shoulder Pain
Pain is one of the recurring ectopic pregnancy symptoms, particularly around the shoulders. Sometimes, pain can also occur in the shoulder area as well as the lower back depending on where the ectopic is located.
In many women, the abdomen may also be tender to touch. Even coughing could induce pain. The tenderness in the abdomen may be diffused or localized to the right or left side of the lower abdomen.
A significant number of women will present to the emergency department complaining of vaginal spotting or frank blood. The bleeding or spotting may have developed within the last 24 to 48 hours. Unlike the bleeding seen at the end of the menstrual cycle, the vaginal bleeding in an ectopic is bright red and can be alarming.
7. Dizziness or Fainting
This symptom is not present in all women with ectopic pregnancy but is often an additional symptom in some women. Many times, a woman might complain of feeling weak or dizzy. This might be due to excessive pain in the abdomen, or bleeding.
One more thing that you need to be extra diligent about: It could also be an indicator that the woman is losing quite a bit of blood.
8. Rectal Pressure
This is another of the common ectopic pregnancy symptoms where the woman might feel like they have to constantly use the toilet. Rectal pressure can be quite uncomfortable and, in some cases, rather painful.
Sometimes, a woman with an ectopic pregnancy may demonstrate symptoms that are similar to that of gastrointestinal disease. This does include, sorry to say, diarrhea.
Because an ectopic pregnancy is considered a medical emergency, the women are usually immediately admitted and undergo testing to confirm the presence of a normal or abnormal pregnancy. Because of the risk of bleeding, women diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy have blood typed and crossed, in case a transfusion is required.
Any female who is sexually active, misses her menstrual period, and has the above symptoms should immediately seek medical assistance.