Ectopic Pregnancy vs. Normal Pregnancy Symptoms & More

Seeing a positive pregnancy test is an exciting moment for an expecting mother. However, it’s important to make yourself aware of the difference between ectopic pregnancy and normal pregnancy.

 

An ectopic pregnancy is very different from a normal pregnancy. Rather than the fertilized egg implanting in the uterus like it’s supposed to with a normal pregnancy, the egg will implant into the fallopian tube and on rare occasions in the ovary or cervix. Approximately 95% of ectopic pregnancies will happen in the fallopian tube.

 

Ectopic Pregnancy vs. Normal Pregnancy
Source: New York Times

What to Watch For

An ectopic pregnancy is considered a medical emergency. Unfortunately, this type of pregnancy is life-threatening and needs medical care promptly. The death rate for an ectopic pregnancy is around 1 per 2,000 ectopics in the United States.

Although the death rates have dropped, 40-50 women still die every year from an ectopic pregnancy. Knowing what to watch for can save your life. It’s not always easy as your symptoms can mimic a normal, healthy pregnancy.

Symptoms

The very first symptoms can seem like a normal pregnancy:

  • Nausea
  • Missed menstrual period
  • Fatigue
  • Tender breasts
  • Increased urination

As the ectopic pregnancy continues, the symptoms can include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Pain that may get worse with movement
  • Sharp pains on one side that could spread through the entire pelvic area
  • Pain during pelvic exam or intercourse
  • Dizziness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Signs of shock including passing out, feeling weak, less alert, and increased heart rate

Diagnosing an Ectopic Pregnancy

If you suspect an ectopic pregnancy, let your doctor know right away. If he or she agrees, you may receive a pelvic exam to check to a mass around the ovary or fallopian tube. This test shouldn’t be done on its own; the true diagnosis comes from an ultrasound and blood tests. During an ultrasound, if there is no gestational sac and there is a mass found in the ovary area, it’s highly likely it will result in an ectopic.

An additional option doctors do is keep track of your HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin)  levels and if they aren’t rising normally, that’s also a cause for concern. However, sometimes HCG levels still do rise, so this test shouldn’t solely rule out if it’s ectopic or not.

Normal pregnancy ultrasound

Normal Pregnancy ultrasound
Source: Emergency Ultrasound Teaching

Ectopic pregnancy ultrasound

Ectopic ultrasound
Source: YouTube

Ectopic Pregnancy Treatment Options

Unfortunately, when an ectopic pregnancy is present, there is no way for the pregnancy to continue. The pregnancy must be ended to save the mother’s life. Sometimes this can be done with a medication called Methotrexate.

This is most beneficial when HCG levels are below 5,000 and when the embryo doesn’t have any signs of heart activity. The other option is surgery, which is best for someone who is having extreme symptoms, such as heavy bleeding or high HCG levels. Usually, laparoscopic surgery is used and only a small incision is needed.

What the Experts Say

“The fallopian tubes are not designed to hold a growing embryo; thus, the fertilized egg in a tubal pregnancy cannot develop properly and must be treated.”

American Pregnancy Association

 

“After a tubal-saving procedure, ectopic pregnancy is equally likely to recur in the operated tube as in the other tube.”

Donnica Moore, M.D.

 

“An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the main cavity of the uterus. Pregnancy begins with a fertilized egg. Normally, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus.”

Mayo Clinic

 

“Initially, an ectopic pregnancy may appear just as a normal pregnancy – with a missed menstrual period and symptoms such as sore breasts and nauseaHowever, there is often abnormal vaginal bleeding which may occur at the time of, a little later than, the expected period. “

Dr. MalpaniMalpani Infertility Clinic

 

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Heather Burdo

Heather is a freelance writer from New York. She has a passion for health and parenting. Heather has written for the Gluten-Free Living magazine, Mom.me, Project Eve Moms, and others.

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