Ectopic Pregnancies

We had an ectopic pregnancy scare which I mentioned in my last post (click here). I thought I’d explain what it is, why it’s dangerous and the treatments.


In My Own Words…

A refresher on anatomy and physiology of a pregnancy.  A follicle in the ovary releases an egg which is fertilized by the sperm in the fallopian tube.  The fertilized egg begins to grow as it passes through the fallopian tube to the uterus. Once in the uterus, the fertilized egg implants into the side of the uterus and then all kinds of things happen.  

Well, an ectopic pregnancy forms when that fertilized egg decided not to make it to the uterus and sets up shop (or implants) into the wall of the fallopian tube.


The growing embryo cannot survive and as it continues to grow, it can cause the fallopian tube to rupture.  Needless to say, the perforated fallopian tube can cause life-threatening complications.

An ectopic pregnancy is usually diagnosed by testing Hcg levels and by an ultrasound.  Because the growing embryo is too small to see on ultrasound, the doctor will usually look for other signs like bleeding.

There’s a couple of ways to treat ectopic pregnancies.  The least invasive option, is taking a medication called methotrexate.  It is usually given to cancer patients because it stops rapid cell growth and dissolves the existing cells.  Just like with other cancer treatments, it can cause nausea, vomiting, joint pain, hair loss, mouth sores, headaches, etc.  It also weakens the immune system. Lastly, there is a waiting period of 3 months to get pregnant again to make sure the medication and its side effects have completely disappeared.

The more invasive option is laparoscopic surgery. Small incisions are made in the abdomen and the fallopian tube is either repaired or removed which depends on the amount of damage from the pregnancy.  

With both options, Hcg levels will continue to be monitored to make sure it decreases to nothing.  The levels are usually drawn every other day.

For more information on ectopic pregnancies, click here.

For information about methotrexate use in ectopic pregnancies, click here.

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