Ectopic Pregnancy (cont.)
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Ectopic pregnancy facts
- What is the definition of an ectopic pregnancy?
- What is an ectopic pregnancy?
- Three classic signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy
- What are other signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?
- What are the risk factors for ectopic pregnancy?
- How is ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?
- What is the health risk of an ectopic pregnancy?
- What treatment options are available for ectopic pregnancy?
How is ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?
The first step in the diagnosis is an interview and examination by the doctor. The usual second step is to obtain a qualitative (positive or negative for pregnancy) or quantitative (measures hormone levels) pregnancy test. Occasionally, the doctor may feel a tender mass during the pelvic examination. If an ectopic pregnancy is suspected, the combination of blood hormone pregnancy tests and pelvic ultrasound can usually help to establish the diagnosis. Transvaginal ultrasound is the most useful test to visualize an ectopic pregnancy. In this test, an ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina, and pelvic images are visible on a monitor. Transvaginal ultrasound can reveal the gestational sac in either a normal (intrauterine) pregnancy or an ectopic pregnancy, but often the findings are not conclusive. Rather than a gestational sac containing a visible embryo, the examination may simply reveal a mass in the area of the Fallopian tubes or elsewhere that is suggestive of, but not conclusive for, an ectopic pregnancy. The ultrasound can also demonstrate the absence of pregnancy within the uterus.
Pregnancy tests are designed to detect specific hormones; the beta subunit of human chorionic gonadotrophin (beta HCG) blood levels are also used in the diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy. Beta HCG levels normally rise during pregnancy. An abnormal pattern in the rise of this hormone can be a clue to the presence of an ectopic pregnancy. In rare cases, laparoscopy may be needed to ultimately confirm a diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy. During laparoscopy, viewing instruments are inserted through small incisions in the abdominal wall to visualize the structures in the abdomen and pelvis, thereby revealing the site of the ectopic pregnancy.
What is the health risk of an ectopic pregnancy?
Some women spontaneously absorb their ectopic pregnancy with no apparent ill effects, and can be observed without treatment. However, the true incidence of spontaneous resolution of ectopic pregnancies is unknown. It is not possible to predict which women will spontaneously resolve their ectopic pregnancies.
The most feared complication of an ectopic pregnancy is rupture, leading to internal bleeding, pelvic and abdominal pain, shock, and even death. Therefore, bleeding in an ectopic pregnancy may require immediate surgical attention. Bleeding results from the rupture of the Fallopian tube or from blood leaking from the end of the tube as the growing placenta erodes into the veins and arteries located inside the tubal wall. Blood coming from the tube can be very irritating to other tissues and organs in the pelvis and abdomen, and result in significant pain. The pelvic blood can lead to scar tissue formation that can result in problems with becoming pregnant in the future. The scar tissue can also increase the risk of future ectopic pregnancies.
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