What is a Tubal Pregnancy?
It won’t end with a healthy baby, but many women go on to have successful pregnancies.
In a normal pregnancy, a fertilized egg travels from the fallopian tube to the uterus, where it grows to full term. In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg ends up outside the uterus. A tubal pregnancy is the most common type of ectopic pregnancy.
The egg implants in the fallopian tube or more rarely in the cervix or abdomen. Left untreated, the tube could burst and cause severe bleeding.
Tubal pregnancies never end with a healthy baby. There is a good chance, however, that the next pregnancy will be normal.
In the beginning, a tubal pregnancy may seem like a normal pregnancy. Symptoms include a missed period, breast tenderness and possibly morning sickness.
When space in the the fallopian tube gets too tight for the growing egg, symptoms appear that aren't usually present in normal pregnancies, including:
- Sudden, sharp pain in the pelvic area or abdomen
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding
- Shoulder pain
- Dizziness and fainting
These symptoms can occur before you know you’re pregnant. If you experience them, call your doctor. If your symptoms are severe, such as fainting or dizziness, seek emergency medical care.
How do I know if I have a tubal pregnancy?
Your health care provider will do an ultrasound exam or draw blood to test for pregnancy hormones if she thinks you may have a tubal pregnancy. If the egg is growing in a fallopian tube, levels of this hormone will be lower than expected. An ultrasound can show where the egg has attached itself.
In the early stages, a tubal pregnancy may be treated with medication that stops the egg from growing. The woman's body then reabsorbs the tissue. This may take four to six weeks.
If the egg is too big or if the tube is already damaged, surgery will be done. If possible, the doctor will repair the tube. Sometimes the damaged tube needs to be removed.
Many women have successful pregnancies after a tubal pregnancy. If one tube has been damaged or removed, the other tube can transport the egg to the uterus. If both tubes are removed, in-vitro fertilization is often successful, since the uterus is still healthy.
After an ectopic pregnancy, there is a 15 percent chance of having another one. A woman may be at higher risk for an ectopic pregnancy if she:
- Is a cigarette smoker
- Had a previous ectopic pregnancy
- Had surgery in her abdomen or pelvis
- Has endometriosis
- Was using an intrauterine device when she got pregnant
- Had previous fertility treatment
Time to heal
Losing a pregnancy can be devastating no matter how it happens. Both your body and your mind need time to heal.
By Beth Hawkins, Contributing Writer
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.. Your Pregnancy and Childbirth. 6th ed. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2015.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Ectopic pregnancy. Accessed: June 27, 2016.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Ectopic pregnancy. Accessed: June 27, 2016.
Tulandi T. Ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. UpToDate. Accessed: June 27, 2016.
Last Updated: June 27, 2016