safe motherhood


Ectopic pregnancy

In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilised egg implants somewhere other than the womb; almost always in a Fallopian tube, where there is no hope of the embryo growing to full term. As the embryo grows, the tube is put under great pressure. Women may feel pain, nausea and may have some bleeding. If the fertilized egg is not removed from the tube promptly, the tube will burst, some time between 4 and 10 weeks of pregnancy.

A ruptured Fallopian tube can cause haemorrhage and shock, which is dangerous for the mother, in worst cases leading to maternal death.

Because the woman may not even be aware that she is pregnant at this early point, ectopic pregnancies can be missed at the stage when they are relatively safe to treat. As well as the immediate risk to the woman's health, rupture of the Fallopian tube can lead to reduced fertility.

Before a Fallopian tube bursts there are usually symptoms that all is not well. If you have symptoms see your doctor immediately, even if a pregnancy test is negative (though it is rare, it's possible for an ectopic pregnancy not to be shown on a pregnancy test).

Warning signs

If you are sexually active and could be pregnant (even if the pregnancy is not confirmed), watch out for:

  • One-sided pain in your abdomen

  • Shoulder tip pain (which may be due to internal bleeding irritating the diaphragm as you breathe in and out)

  • Pain when you open your bowels or pass water

  • There may be slight bleeding from the vagina, but not in all cases

  • You may feel light-headed and faint - other indicators may be paleness, increased pulse, sickness and diarrhoea.

Ectopic pregnancies are on the increase and it is important to be aware of the symptoms, particularly if you fall into any of the higher risk groups:

  • if you have suffered from pelvic inflammatory disease, chlamydia etc.

  • if you have a coil fitted

  • if you have had abdominal surgery, including Caesarean section

  • if you have had tubal litigation

  • if you are on the progesterone-only mini pill

  • if you suffer from endometriosis