An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg attaches somewhere other than the lining of the uterus. The Mayo Clinic explains that ectopic pregnancy nearly always occurs in one of the two fallopian tubes that deliver eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. This is also called a tubal pregnancy. Other possible, but rare, locations of implantation include the abdomen, ovary or the cervix. Sadly, an ectopic pregnancy can't be carried to term. Early treatment of this type of pregnancy is critical to reducing the risk of damage to the female reproductive organs.
The early symptoms of pregnancy can be the same, even if the fertilized egg has implanted outside the uterus. The Mayo Clinic indicates that it is also common for a woman to go without any symptoms if the pregnancy is ectopic. Some common symptoms of pregnancy include breast tenderness, areola darkening, nausea, headache, fatigue and a missed period.
One early warning sign of an ectopic pregnancy is pain in the lower abdomen and cramping on one side of the pelvis. About 5 or 6 weeks after suspected conception a woman may notice cramping that is similar to menstrual cramps. This is often attributed to implantation, the attaching of the fertilized egg into the uterus. Differentiating between an ectopic pregnancy and implantation symptoms is best done by a health care provider. When these early symptoms occur beyond the sixth week of pregnancy, medical attention is necessary.
Light vaginal bleeding, especially when accompanied by pain, can be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. Normal bleeding with implantation does not usually amount to a large quantity. A woman can wear a panty liner to help measure the amount of bleeding she is experiencing. Anything that fills the liner requires medical attention.
The Mayo Clinic explains that the fallopian tube can rupture as a result of the ectopic pregnancy. This can be avoided by seeking medical treatment as soon as the woman begins experiencing symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy. Urgent treatment is needed in this situation. The pain that occurs with this type of rupture will be significant. BabyCenter.com explains that the pain is sharp in the pelvic area or any part of the abdomen. The pain can spread to the shoulder and neck.
A woman can go into shock due to the rupture of the fallopian tube. Symptoms of this can include weakness, racing pulse, paleness, clammy skin and dizziness. Emergency medical attention is required in this case.
When an ectopic pregnancy is suspected, a health care provider will carry out a number of tests or examinations to make a diagnosis. This can include an ultrasound, pelvic exam and a blood test. An ultrasound can help confirm whether the fertilized egg has implanted into the uterus or if it has attached somewhere else. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will be looking for discomfort and a mass in the fallopian tube or ovary. A blood test can reveal the levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone that is produced in pregnancy. The National Institutes of Health points out that a blood test can identify the levels of hCG in the woman's body to distinguish between a normal and ectopic pregnancy.