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An ectopic pregnancy is any pregnancy where the fetus develops outside the uterus. The fetus typically grows in one of the fallopian tubes when a fertilized ovum does not travel down the fallopian tube to the uterus. Cases have also been noted where fetuses developed in the cervix, the abdominal cavity, and the ovary.
Approximately five in every 1,000 pregnancies are ectopic. As 95% of cases see the fetus developing in the fallopian tubes, an ectopic pregnancy is sometimes called a tubal pregnancy.
An expectant mother may experience a number of the same symptoms of a normal pregnancy during an ectopic pregnancy including missing her period, morning sickness, and tender breasts. Other more severe symptoms include pain in the lower back or abdomen, cramping on one side of the pelvis, and vaginal bleeding. The fallopian tube can also rupture and cause significant pain and death if left untreated. Early screening through blood tests and ultrasound exams is crucial for identifying an ectopic pregnancy and reducing this risk. Most ectopic pregnancies are discovered between the fourth and tenth week of gestation.
A number of factors may increase a woman's chances of ectopic pregnancy including reversal of tubal sterilization, endometriosis, a past case of pelvic inflammatory disease, fallopian tube defects or damage, smoking, and past ectopic pregnancies. Most contraceptive devices do not increase the chances of ectopic pregnancy, but using the contraceptive mini-pill or progesterone-releasing IUD does carry a slightly higher risk.
Ectopic pregnancies are typically treated with medication or, as a last resort, laparoscopic or abdominal surgery. In the vast majority of cases, the fetus will not survive as it does not have space to grow or access to the nutrients it needs to thrive. Because miscarriage is so common, some doctors prefer to simply monitor an ectopic pregnancy rather than resorting to treatment.