A positive pregnancy test is undoubtedly a very telling indicator that you’re pregnant. But there are also some very important details of the pregnancy that a pregnancy test isn’t able to show us and can only be assessed through a pregnancy ultrasound. Pregnancy ultrasounds can show how far along you are in your pregnancy and check for a fetal heartbeat, which of course are very important. However, ultrasounds are also the only way to determine whether or not your pregnancy is ectopic which, while rare, is a medical emergency that is extremely dangerous if left undiagnosed. 

What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

So what is an ectopic pregnancy? During a “normal” and healthy pregnancy,  the egg is fertilized and is implanted in the lining of the uterus, where it will stay and develop until the baby is born. In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg does not make it to the uterus, and instead implants somewhere else. Most commonly, ectopic pregnancies are implanted in the fallopian tube, which is the part of the body that carries the egg from the ovaries to the uterus, however it is also possible for it to implant in other areas (such as the abdomen, cervix, or ovary). 

While ectopic pregnancies only occur in about 2% of pregnancies, women who are sexually active should be aware of what they are, what symptoms to watch out for, and the importance of having an ultrasound to verify the viability of a pregnancy.

How To Know if a Pregnancy Is Ectopic

It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate an ectopic pregnancy from a healthy one. Pregnancy tests will read positive for an ectopic pregnancy and many of the symptoms will be the same that you would experience in a pregnancy that is located in the uterus as it should be. These symptoms typically begin to develop between the 4th and 12th weeks of pregnancy:

  • Nausea or morning sickness
  • Breast tenderness
  • Missed period 
  • Fatigue
  • Positive pregnancy test

Many women aren’t able to identify an issue until more serious symptoms begin to develop as the fertilized egg continues to grow outside of the uterus. These symptoms could be: 

  • Pelvic pain or pressure
  • Dizziness or weakness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting

These symptoms can certainly help to clue you into the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy, however the only truly accurate way to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy is by having an ultrasound. An ultrasound will reveal whether or not the pregnancy is located in the uterus and is progressing as it should be. 

If you are in need of an ultrasound or are searching for pregnancy help, PRC GR offers free ultrasounds.  

Factors That May Increase Your Risk of Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancies can happen to anyone, however the following factors have been known to potentially increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy:

  • Previous ectopic pregnancy
  • Previous pelvic or abdominal surgery
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
  • An IUD in place at the time of conception
  • Endometriosis
  • A history of smoking tobacco
  • A history of infertility or going through infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Pregnancy that occurs after you’ve gotten your tubes tied

These risk factors have been known to show a correlation with women who have had ectopic pregnancies; however, as many as 50% of women who have had an ectopic pregnancy did not have any previously known risk factors. It’s especially important if you are sexually active to make sure you are alert to any changes you may notice with your body and to schedule an ultrasound as soon as possible if you begin to experience any potential ectopic pregnancy symptoms.

Can an Ectopic Pregnancy Be Carried to Full Term?

There is only one organ in a woman’s body that was made to carry a pregnancy, and that organ is the uterus. The uterus is flexible and has the ability to expand to accommodate the space and other needs of a developing baby. It’s not possible for the fallopian tubes or any other organ in the body to provide this support for a sustainable pregnancy and unfortunately, there is no way for a fertilized egg to be transferred into the uterus. This means that ectopic pregnancies cannot be carried to full term. 

If a pregnancy outside of the uterus goes untreated while the pregnancy continues to grow, the fallopian tube may rupture or damage may occur to other organs, causing internal bleeding and possibly even death. Once diagnosed, immediate treatment is required to stop any continued growth of the fertilized egg and to end the ectopic pregnancy for the safety of the mother. For this reason, it is extremely important to make sure you have an ultrasound completed as soon as you receive a positive pregnancy test, even if you are not sure if you’d like to keep the pregnancy.

Treatment for Ectopic Pregnancy

Depending on factors such as the mother’s health, her symptoms, and the size of the fetus, ectopic pregnancies can be treated with the use of either medication or surgery. If the pregnancy is diagnosed early enough, medication will likely be used to stop the pregnancy. In other cases, surgery may be required to remove the pregnancy before it becomes too large. 

Is Ectopic Pregnancy Treatment Considered Abortion?

After the overturn of Roe V. Wade, there has been a lot of conversation and confusion regarding the treatment of ectopic pregnancy. While the treatment of an ectopic pregnancy does require the removal of a fetus, it is not the same procedure and the medications used are not the same as abortion. Being treated for an ectopic pregnancy is not considered an elective abortion.

Due to the danger to the life and health of the mother, ectopic pregnancies are medical emergencies. Treatment is both encouraged and absolutely necessary in order to prevent life-threatening complications.

How PRC GR Can Help

If you have recently taken a pregnancy test at home or believe you may be pregnant, stop by PRC GR or schedule an appointment for a free pregnancy confirmation and ultrasound. During your appointment, we will confirm your pregnancy and help to ensure the location of your pregnancy to rule out an ectopic pregnancy. From there, we offer many services, including pregnancy consultations, counseling and medical referrals to help you discover what your options are for next-steps.PRC GR is here to help you with any need that you may have during your pregnancy. Call us today at (616) 319-2409 or text us at (616) 284-1545.