In most cases a near fatal situation, an ectopic pregnancy is characterized by a pregnancy that develops outside the uterus. Essentially meaning ‘out of place’, an ectopic pregnancy is said to have occurred when the fertilized egg does not implant in the uterus, but somewhere else like the fallopian tubes or the abdomen.
And even though most cases of ectopic pregnancies end up in the fallopian tubes (also called as tubal pregnancies), chances are there for an ectopic pregnancy to occur in the cervix or abdomen as well (called as cervical or abdominal pregnancies respectively).
The Difference Between a Normal Pregnancy and An Ectopic Pregnancy
In a normal uterine pregnancy, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine wall and starts developing in the uterus. However, in an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tubes, abdomen or anywhere else in the cervical region.
While the uterus has the space, strength and capability to handle the developing fetus, the fallopian tubes, abdomen and cervix do not. So they would most likely rupture after a specific point of fetal development, causing excessive blood loss (in some cases internal hemorrhage). And this could be fatal for both the fetus and the mother. In any case, an ectopic pregnancy would not result in a live birth and would most probably end in a natural/planned abortion.
Common Signs of Normal Uterine and Ectopic Pregnancies
The most difficult part of an ectopic pregnancy is diagnosing it. The initial symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are very similar to those of a normal pregnancy, including missed menstrual cycles, nausea, breast tenderness, fatigue, giddiness and frequent urination etc. In fact a woman with an ectopic pregnancy would not be able to realize it until the more specific signs start showing up.
Vital Signs of an Ectopic Pregnancy
Given below are some of the more common symptoms of ectopic pregnancies that you need to watch out for provided that your doctor does not find anything abnormal in the ultrasound which is usually done within the first few weeks of conceiving.
Mild-Sharp Abdominal, Pelvic Pain
The first tell tale signs of an ectopic pregnancy involve a mild abdominal pain that would soon build into an extremely painful stabbing sensation. Many women often mistake these pains for cramps until they find it very painful to even move.
The pain experienced during an ectopic pregnancy is not limited to the abdomen alone and can occur in the pelvis, neck or even shoulder (we’ll explain why later on). And while the pain would occur on both sides of the body, with time it would move over to one side, become very intense and would be followed by light spotting or heavy vaginal bleeding (in the case of a rupture).
As and when the pain in the abdominal/pelvic region intensifies, the individual in question would most probably start noticing spotting or bleeding. Vaginal bleeding can occur during the initial stages of an ectopic pregnancy as well although the reason for the same is mistaken to be something else like implantation bleeding, miscarriage etc. Abdominal pain accompanied by vaginal bleeding are the foremost warning signs of an ectopic pregnancy.
Nausea and Giddiness
Often attributed to be common signs of a normal uterine pregnancy, dizziness and nausea can also set in during an ectopic pregnancy. In some cases, internal bleeding can also cause nausea and dizziness. Watch out for one more sign though. If you feel nauseous and giddy, and your skin starts to become pale, chances are you have an ectopic pregnancy that is causing internal bleeding.
Increase in HCG Levels
This would most probably act as the first warning sign for your doctor. The HCG levels in the body are routinely checked during pregnancy to rule out any anomalies. These levels will usually rise at abnormal rates, maybe double or triple themselves within a matter of days during a normal uterine pregnancy.
In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the HCG levels in the body would increase, but at a comparatively lower rate than usual. If your doctor notices a slow increase of HCG levels in the body, he/she would most probably recommend an ultrasound or more blood tests to check for an ectopic pregnancy.
Shoulder, Neck Pain
Remember about how we promised we would come back to this particular symptom of an ectopic pregnancy? Well here we are. Many may wonder as to how an ectopic pregnancy can cause pain in the neck and shoulder regions. Well you may be surprised to note that this is one of the most vital signs of an ectopic pregnancy that indicate that you need to get help fast. Put in simple terms, it means you need to rush to the hospital as soon as you start experiencing severe neck or shoulder pain.
As the fetus develops, the organ it is attached to would not be able to support it and would burst under the pressure. This would cause massive internal bleeding which would cause blood to collect in the abdominal cavity under the diaphragm.
The excess blood flow into the abdominal cavity would irritate the nerves present in the diaphragm which would in turn irritate the nerves present in the neck and shoulder, thus triggering bouts of pain in these areas. So if you start experiencing extreme pain in your shoulder/neck regions, and start noticing the other signs of an ectopic pregnancy as well, chances are the organ supporting the egg has already ruptured, which means you need to seek medical attention immediately!
Low Blood Pressure
Another possible sign of an ectopic pregnancy is low blood sugar which can be triggered off by internal bleeding following a rupture. This in turn can cause fatigue and breathlessness. So if you start to experience a drop in the blood pressure level and notice the other signs of an ectopic pregnancy, get help fast!
Gas Pain, Constipation
After a rupture, the blood collecting in the abdominal cavity would start putting pressure on the surrounding regions, including the rectal area. Many individuals mistake this for abdominal gas or constipation. While mild pain can be ignored, severe gas pain needs to be reported to a doctor as soon as possible.
In certain rare cases, a rupture can cause heavy internal and vaginal bleeding which could make the individual go into shock. Signs that could potentially indicate a shock setting in include dizziness, vision problems, light headedness, cold sweat, sweaty skin, fainting, and weak pulse etc. If you start to experience these signs, get medical help as fast as possible.
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