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Ectopic Pregnancy | Glossary of Pregnancy & Baby Term

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  • Bambino Mio
  • 09 / 08 / 2023




What is an ectopic pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy (1) occurs when a fertilised egg implants outside of the main cavity of the uterus. Most ectopic pregnancies occur in the Fallopian tube and are known as tubal pregnancies.


Occasionally, the egg can implant in other areas, such as in the ovary, the abdominal cavity and the cervix.


Can an ectopic pregnancy survive?

No, an ectopic pregnancy can’t grow and develop normally as it’s in the wrong place. The growing embryo can cause damage to the woman’s internal organs and life-threatening bleeding if it’s not treated.


What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy has no symptoms at first, but you’ll probably experience some pregnancy symptoms such as a missed period, nausea and sore breasts. 


You’ll also, if you take a pregnancy test, get a positive result, as your hCG levels (2) will still rise, but an ectopic pregnancy can’t continue.


As the embryo becomes larger, you’ll probably start to notice unusual symptoms, such as:


  • Sharp pelvic pain on one side that’s not round ligament pain (3)
  • Light bleeding from the vagina
  • Shoulder pain (this referred pain (4) can be caused by blood leaking from the Fallopian tube)
  • An unusual urge to poo, even if you don’t need to go to the toilet



You need urgent medical help if:

  • You have heavy bleeding from your vagina
  • The bleeding is accompanied by severe abdominal or pelvic pain
  • You become very lightheaded, dizzy or you go into shock
  • You notice sudden shoulder pain


As the embryo grows in your Fallopian tube, it can cause it to rupture and the heavy internal bleeding which usually follows is life threatening, so seek medical help immediately.


What causes an ectopic pregnancy

Tubal pregnancies, the most common type of ectopic pregnancy, are usually caused by the fertilised egg becoming stuck or delayed (5) on its journey down the Fallopian tube. This can happen because the tube is misshapen or damaged in some way, although sometimes hormonal problems or abnormally developing eggs are the cause.

Are some women more at risk of ectopic pregnancies?

Some women are at a higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy. Risk factors include:

  • An infection or inflammation - some sexually-transmitted infections (6) (STIs), such as chlamydia (7), can cause inflammation and scarring in your Fallopian tubes
  • Fertility treatments such as IVF can raise your risk of an ectopic pregnancy
  • Previous surgery to your Fallopian tubes can increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy
  • Using an intrauterine device (coil) (8) as contraception is very effective, but if you do become pregnant while using one, the embryo is more likely to implant in a Fallopian tube
  • Smoking before you get pregnant can also increase your risk of ectopic pregnancy (9)


Can you prevent ectopic pregnancies?

There's no way to prevent an ectopic pregnancy, but here are some ways to decrease your risk:


You can’t prevent an ectopic pregnancy but you can reduce your risk by:


  • Using a condom during sex unless you’re planning to conceive
  • Having regular screenings for STIs like chlamydia and pelvic inflammatory disease and treating infections as soon as possible
  • If you smoke, stop before you start trying to conceive

Citations and References

  1. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Health A to Z. Ectopic Pregnancy.’ 2022. Web. www.nhs.uk/conditions/ectopic-pregnancy
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH). National Library of Medicine. ‘Human Chorionic Gonadotropin.’ 2022. Web. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532950
  3. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Round Ligament Pain in Pregnancy.’ 2019. Web. www.royalberkshire.nhs.uk/media/wtai0ety/round-ligament-pain-in-pregnancy_oct19.pdf
  4. WebMD. ‘What is Referred Shoulder Pain?’ 2022. Web. www.webmd.com/pain-management/pain-referred-shoulder-pain
  5. National Institutes of Health (NIH). National Library of Medicine. ‘Ectopic Pregnancy.’ 2022. Web. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539860
  6. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Health A to Z. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).’ 2022. Web. www.nhs.uk/conditions/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis
  7. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Health A to Z. Chlamydia.’ 2021. Web. www.nhs.uk/conditions/chlamydia
  8. National Health Service (NHS). ‘Your Contraception Guide. Intrauterine Device (IUD).’ 2021. Web. www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/iud-coil
  9. University of Edinburgh. ‘Study Pinpoints Ectopic Smoke Link.’ 2016. Web. www.ed.ac.uk/news/all-news/ectopic-270910