An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants and begins to grow outside the womb. The most common place that this occurs is in the Fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the womb. Unfortunately, ectopic pregnancies can’t survive and they can’t be saved. They pose a danger to the mother until they are removed, and this is via medication or surgery. An ectopic pregnancy may cause you no symptoms, but symptoms usually develop between the 4th and 12th week of pregnancy. These include signs of pregnancy, like a missed period, but also lower tummy pain, often to only one side, bleeding or abnormal brown discharge from the vagina, or pain at the tip of your shoulder (relating to pain transferred from the tummy).
Certain factors can make you more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy, such as having an ectopic pregnancy once before, having fertility treatment, falling pregnant whilst you have a contraceptive coil or previous surgery to your Fallopian tubes. Pelvic inflammatory disease (often caused by an STI) as well as smoking, and falling pregnant above the age of 40 also increases your risk. The important thing to remember is that up to 65% of women who have had an ectopic pregnancy go on to have a normal pregnancy and birth afterwards. You are at a slightly higher risk of another ectopic pregnancy, but this is fairly low at around 1 in 10 women.
You may only have mild symptoms, in which case you should contact your doctor or call 111 or attend the Emergency Department outside working hours. You may have become unwell, with fever, vomiting, feeling faint and looking pale. You need immediate medical attention in this case, as ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening so it’s important to attend the Emergency Department in this case. An ectopic pregnancy can be diagnosed by ultrasound examination, and you may also have blood tests.
Whilst you are being managed for an ectopic pregnancy, you may need a few days to rest and recuperate both physically and mentally. You are not fit for work whilst you are having symptoms or recovering from an ectopic pregnancy.
Most women will be able to get pregnant again after having an ectopic pregnancy. The loss of a child, no matter how early, can affect women physically and mentally. You may need to take time to process the experience and grieve, and your body needs to heal. Therefore, it is best to ensure that you and your partner are both physically and emotionally ready before trying for another baby. Doctors usually advise waiting for two menstrual cycles before you try again, to give a chance for your body to repair and heal. If you had medication to terminate the pregnancy, they usually advise waiting 3 months but check with your treating doctor. If you do become pregnant again, it is advised to inform your doctor early, so they can arrange an early scan for you, which usually occurs around 6 weeks.