What is an ectopic pregnancy ?

In a normal pregnancy, an egg is released from one of the woman’s ovaries. It travels down a narrow passage called a fallopian tube, which connects the ovaries to the womb. The egg is fertilised by a sperm from the man and is implanted in the lining of the womb, where it grows into a baby.

In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilised egg implants outside the womb. In most ectopic pregnancies, it implants in one of the narrow fallopian tubes.

Many ectopic pregnancies end in a natural miscarriage and the woman may never know she was pregnant.

In some cases, the growing embryo can split or tear the fallopian tube, causing serious internal bleeding.

To prevent this sort of complication, if you have an ectopic pregnancy, you’ll usually need a small operation to remove the embryo. If a tear has already happened, you may need emergency surgery to stop the bleeding, which might mean removing one of your fallopian tubes.

Signs of an ectopic pregnancy

Signs that your pregnancy might be ectopic include:

  • Cramps and bleeding, which you might think are your normal period. This could also be a miscarriage.
  • Severe pain, on one side of your lower abdomen.

If you suspect you have an ectopic pregnancy, make an urgent appointment with your GP.

If the fallopian tube splits, you may experience serious symptoms including:

  • sudden, severe pain that gradually spreads throughout the abdomen,
  • pain in the shoulder, caused by blood leaking into the abdomen and irritating the muscles of the diaphragm,
  • shock caused by sudden internal bleeding,
  • sweating, light-headedness and feeling faint, and
  • diarrhoea or blood in the stools.

If you have got a positive result from a pregnancy test, or suspect you’re pregnant, and you have these symptoms, you may need emergency treatment.

Seek urgent medical help from your local A&E department, or call 999 for an ambulance.


NHS Choices

Published Date 2010-07-23

Last Review Date 2009-01-15

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