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What You Need To Know About Ectopic Pregnancy

Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, MD · Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 15, 2021

What You Need To Know About Ectopic Pregnancy

After the sperm meets the egg cell, the fertilized egg, also called a zygote, normally implants in the womb. This marks the beginning of a normal pregnancy. However, there are times when implantation happens outside of the womb, also called ectopic pregnancy. What happens in an ectopic pregnancy?

What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy? 

As mentioned, an ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg implants anywhere outside the womb or the uterus. The types of ectopic pregnancy depend on the location of the implantation. Some of the types include:

  • Tubal Pregnancy. This happens when the implantation takes place in the fallopian tube, the tube that connects the ovaries to the uterus. Additionally, tubal pregnancy is the most common among all the types of ectopic pregnancies.
  • Ovarian Pregnancy. Sometimes, the zygote implants in the ovary itself, resulting in an ovarian pregnancy.
  • Abdominal Pregnancy. There are also instances when the zygote implants in any organ within the peritoneal cavity; this is called an abdominal ectopic pregnancy.
  • Cervical Pregnancy. Cervical ectopic pregnancy is a rare type, accounting for less than 1% of cases. It happens when the zygote implants further down the uterus into the cervix – the passageway that connects the uterus to the vagina.

Please note that the discussion on how to prevent ectopic pregnancy complications also depends on the type of ectopic pregnancy. This is because each type of ectopic pregnancy may show different signs and symptoms. In this article, we will focus more on the most common type, which is the tubal pregnancy.

Possible Causes of Ectopic Pregnancy

If we want to tackle how to prevent ectopic pregnancy, we will have to deepen our knowledge of its possible causes. For starters, remember that fertilization usually happens in the fallopian tube. If a problem occurs in the transport of the zygote from the fallopian tube to the uterus (like a blockage or damage), a tubal ectopic pregnancy may occur.

The fallopian tubes may sustain damage from:

  • Smoking. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of pregnancy complications including ectopic pregnancy.
  • PID or Pelvic Inflammatory Diseases. This includes sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.
  • Endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition where the cells that should line the uterus develop elsewhere. This may cause scarring to the fallopian tubes.
  • Previous surgeries. Fallopian tube or abdominal surgeries may also cause scarring and blockages.
  • In vitro fertilization. Women who undergo fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization also have a higher risk for ectopic pregnancy.
  • IUD or Intrauterine Device. IUD is one kind of birth control method. Experts say that a woman who will get pregnant while using an IUD may have a higher probability of having an ectopic pregnancy.

How To Spot an Ectopic Pregnancy

More than knowing the causes, you must know how to prevent ectopic pregnancy complications. You will be more adept at avoiding the dangers of ectopic pregnancy if you know how to spot the signs of symptoms.

The Earliest Signs and Symptoms

Unfortunately, an ectopic pregnancy is hard to detect in its early stages. You will have the symptoms of a normal pregnancy, such as a missed period, nausea, sore breasts, and fatigue. If you take the pregnancy test, it will also come out positive.

However, this pregnancy will not continue as normal. As the baby grows in the fallopian tube or elsewhere outside the uterus, the signs will show up one by one. Specifically, the symptoms may show between the 4th and 12th week.

  • Vaginal Bleeding. If you do not suspect pregnancy, you may think that vaginal bleeding is your normal monthly menstruation. However, unlike the normal menstrual blood, vaginal blood in ectopic pregnancy may be dark brown and watery. Additionally, it’s not “continuous,” it often starts and stops.
  • Abdominal Pain. Since a lot of things can cause tummy pain, such as indigestion and gas, it will be hard to use this symptom to spot an ectopic pregnancy. However, if you are keen to know how to prevent ectopic pregnancy complications, you must take note of abdominal pain. Typically, you can feel this pain on one side of your lower abdomen.
  • Shoulder Pain. To be more specific, you will feel the pain on your shoulder tip. This is the point where your shoulder ends and your arm begins. Doctors call it “referred pain,” and it might happen when a ruptured ectopic pregnancy causes internal bleeding which affects the diaphragm (the diaphragm and shoulder tip have the same set of sensory nerves).
  • Pain during urination and bowel movement. With an ectopic pregnancy, you may experience pain when you pee or pass stool. Diarrhea may also be included.

When To See a Doctor

If you suspect having this condition, the best practice on how to prevent ectopic pregnancy complications is to seek medical attention right away. In other words, if you believe that you may be pregnant and then you experience any of the symptoms described above, consult your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room for prompt assessment.

Additionally, you must seek medical help immediately if you develop the following emergency symptoms:

  • Sharp and sudden pain in the abdomen; the pain can also be described as “intense”
  • Light-headedness or feeling faint or dizzy
  • Looking very pale
  • Feeling sick

These signs may indicate the rupture of a fallopian tube. A rupture happens when the ectopic pregnancy grows large enough to “split-open” the fallopian tube. Please note that this is a medical emergency and surgery is necessary to stop the bleeding.

how to prevent ectopic pregnancy


Once the doctor diagnoses an ectopic pregnancy, they will have to treat it right away to prevent complications. Treatment mostly involves:

  • Medications. If the ectopic pregnancy is found early, the doctor may prescribe medications to end the pregnancy. One medication, methotrexate, may be used to avoid surgery. However, you will need constant monitoring to see if it worked or if it will cause complications.
  • Surgery. If the ectopic pregnancy progressed passed the first few weeks, the doctor may opt for surgery rather than medication. One type of surgery for this is the laparoscopic removal of the ectopic pregnancy or removal of the damaged fallopian tube, which only needs a small incision to remove the ectopic tissue and repair damages.

How To Prevent an Ectopic Pregnancy

Unfortunately, the practices on how to prevent ectopic pregnancy are very limited. Additionally, these practices do not really prevent the condition; rather, they only lower the risk.

  • Avoid smoking as it increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy.
  • Take actions to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, like using a condom and being careful with your sexual partners. This will lower your risk of developing PIDs, which is one of the possible causes of ectopic pregnancy.
  • Key Takeaways

    After an ectopic pregnancy, take all the time you need to cope with what happened. Since you may develop depression, do not hesitate to ask for support from your loved ones. Additionally, you can also talk to your health care provider.

    Women often worry about the possibility of another pregnancy after an ectopic one. Understand that going through an ectopic pregnancy does not mean that you will not get pregnant anymore. However, it could result in:

    • Difficulty in getting pregnant
    • Another ectopic pregnancy

    While there are no definite steps on how to prevent ectopic pregnancy, you can work on the practices that will lower the risk of developing the condition.

    Learn more about Pregnancy here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mary Rani Cadiz, MD

    Obstetrics and Gynecology

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 15, 2021

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