1. Pregnancy
  2. Pregnancy health
  3. Complications

Flo Fact-Checking Standards

Every piece of content at Flo Health adheres to the highest editorial standards for language, style, and medical accuracy. To learn what we do to deliver the best health and lifestyle insights to you, check out our content review principles.

Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms: What You Need to Know to Seek Medical Attention on Time

In an ectopic pregnancy, the embryo develops outside the uterus. This condition is not common and affects about two percent of pregnancies. People who use reproductive technologies have a slightly higher rate of five percent. 

Let’s find out more about the early signs of ectopic pregnancy. In fact, a timely diagnosis may save your ability to get pregnant again.

For the first few weeks, symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may overlap with normal pregnancy symptoms such as the lack of menstruation and breast tenderness. 

Over time, other signs may develop:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • cramps in the lower abdomen, sometimes on one side
  • low back pain
  • nausea and vomiting

Anyone who experiences these symptoms should contact a health care provider as soon as possible. If left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can lead to symptoms like sharp, severe pain in the lower abdomen, dizziness, and fainting. 

In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous miscarriage is unlikely. If a miscarriage does happen, it is accompanied by bleeding and requires hospitalization.

An ectopic pregnancy can’t move to the uterus. In some cases, health care providers may wait until an ectopic pregnancy resolves on its own, but this option is only possible under medical supervision in a hospital. Otherwise, laparoscopy will be offered to terminate the pregnancy and keep the fallopian tube where it was growing, if possible.

In more than 90 percent of ectopic pregnancies, the fertilized egg settles in one of the fallopian tubes, the same place where fertilization usually takes place.

Other ectopic pregnancy types — ovarian, cervical, and abdominal — account for the remaining cases. In rare instances, the egg can attach to the liver or spleen.

Generally, an ectopic pregnancy occurs for no apparent reason and is unexpected, but several groups have a higher risk of developing one.

An ectopic pregnancy is more likely to happen if a person:

  • had an inflammatory disease of the pelvic organs
  • had one or more ectopic pregnancies and/or surgery on the uterine tubes    
  • is using intrauterine contraception (IUD) and sterilization
  • is older than 35 years
  • smokes more than 20 cigarettes a day
  • conceived via assisted reproductive technologies
  • has endometriosis
  • underwent abdominal and pelvic operations

However, these risk guidelines aren’t definitive, as more than half of people with ectopic pregnancies do not meet any of them.

Health care providers use ultrasounds and hCG blood tests to diagnose ectopic pregnancies. When an ectopic pregnancy is confirmed, it should be removed, either medically or surgically.

If the fallopian tube is not damaged and the patient is not experiencing severe pain and is ready for the subsequent observation, methotrexate therapy may be prescribed.

This medication inhibits the growth of embryonic cells, stalling the pregnancy. The tissue from an ectopic pregnancy is absorbed within four to six weeks. This method preserves the tubes, which means that future healthy pregnancies are possible.

In other cases, an ectopic pregnancy is ended by surgery. A method such as laparoscopy is done under general anesthesia using a small telescope through tiny incisions in the abdomen. While removing the fertilized egg, the surgeon will generally try to keep the tube, but this might not always be possible. 

People with one fallopian tube still have strong chances of conceiving in the future (about 67 percent).

After receiving treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, most people need some time to recover physically and emotionally.

Tyler Mummert, David M. Gnugnoli. “Ectopic Pregnancy.”NCBI, Bookshelf, Accessed November 20, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539860/

“Ectopic pregnancy.” Mayo Clinic, MFMER, Accessed Dec 18, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ectopic-pregnancy/symptoms-causes/syc-20372088

“Ectopic Pregnancy.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, FAQ155, Accessed February 2018, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/ectopic-pregnancy

G. Geovin Ranji, G.Usha Rani, Sri Varshini.”Ectopic Pregnancy: Risk Factors, Clinical Presentation and Management.”NCBI, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Accessed Nov 18,2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6207546/

“Ectopic pregnancy” Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists,Accessed Nov 4, 2016,https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/ectopic-pregnancy/

Read this next