An ectopic pregnancy is a form of pregnancy where the embryo grows outside the womb. Usually, the embryo develops within a fallopian tube. Approximately 1% of women are at risk for this condition. It is a life-threatening condition for both the mother and the baby.
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Symptoms depend on the stage of ectopic pregnancy experienced by the patient. The following list of symptoms is, with this in mind, not intended to be exhaustive:
Not all patients experience these symptoms, with as many as 1 in 10 patients experiencing no symptoms at all. Severe symptoms may manifest if the ectopic pregnancy is left untreated. These symptoms include abdominal distension, peritonism and hypovolemic shock.
An ectopic pregnancy may be caused through one, or a combination of, the following means:
Along with these risk factors, some women may also be physiologically predisposed to having an ectopic pregnancy. Tiny hairs, known as cilia, line the fallopian tube and, in some women, these hairs are damaged or deformed. This deformity is sufficient to cause an ectopic pregnancy.
There are numerous ways to diagnose ectopic pregnancy, some of which include:
Pregnant women presenting to their doctor with abdominal pain and bleeding should be suspected of having an ectopic pregnancy. It is worth noting that less than 50 percent of pregnant women having an ectopic pregnancy experience these two symptoms. Nonetheless, they are considered reliable markers. Other diagnostic tests, such as ultrasonography and laparoscopy, may be performed to confirm this diagnosis.
Treatment options do exist for ectopic pregnancies, but the embryo rarely survives. These treatment options include:
Methotrexate is used in the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases, but may also be used to induce abortion. If the ectopic pregnancy is detected early, methotrexate can work by terminating growth of the embryo. However, this comes with additional risks. The drug may also terminate an already present intrauterine pregnancy.
Surgery is typically required when the patient is bleeding significantly. The surgeon may remove either the embryo or the fallopian tube, depending on the circumstances. Patients are continually monitored throughout this period, not least because an ectopic pregnancy may also be fatal to the mother as much to the developing fetus.
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