An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb. Most ectopic pregnancies develop in the fallopian tubes which connect the ovaries to the womb.
Around 1 in 80 pregnancies are ectopic and in some cases it can be life threatening for the mother.
Unfortunately, it's not possible to save the pregnancy as the embryo will not have room to grow and develop. It usually has to be removed using medicine or an operation.
Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy
An ectopic pregnancy doesn't always cause symptoms and may only be detected during a routine pregnancy scan.
If you do have symptoms, they tend to develop between the 4th and 12th week of pregnancy.
Symptoms can include a combination of:
- a missed period and other signs of pregnancy
- stomach pain low down on one side
- vaginal bleeding or a brown watery discharge
- pain in the tip of your shoulder
- discomfort when peeing or pooing
- feeling faint
But these symptoms aren't necessarily a sign of a serious problem. They can sometimes be caused by other problems, such as a stomach bug.
When to get medical advice
Contact your GP or call the
Emergency Department on +44 (0) 1534 442264 if you have a combination of any of the above symptoms and you might be pregnant. An ectopic pregnancy can be serious, so it's important to get advice right away.
Read more about
ectopic pregnancy tests on the NHS website.
When to get emergency help
Call 999 for an ambulance or go to the Emergency Department immediately if you experience:
- a sharp, sudden and severe pain in your stomach, which is continuous
How an ectopic pregnancy is treated
There are three main treatments for an ectopic pregnancy:
- expectant management – you're carefully monitored and one of the treatments below is used if the fertilised egg doesn't dissolve by itself
- medication – an injection of a medicine called methotrexate is used to stop the pregnancy growing
- surgery – keyhole surgery (laparoscopy) is performed under general anaesthetic to remove the fertilised egg, usually along with the affected fallopian tube
You'll be told about the benefits and risks of each option. In many cases, a particular treatment will be recommended based on your symptoms and the results of the tests you have.
Some treatments may reduce your chances of being able to conceive naturally in the future, although most women will still be able to get pregnant. Talk to your doctor about this.
Read more about
treating an ectopic pregnancy on the NHS website.
Help and support after an ectopic pregnancy
- The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust
- The Ectopic Pregnancy Foundation
- The Miscarriage Association
- Cruse Bereavement Care
Trying for another baby
You'll probably be advised to wait until you've had at least one period after treatment before trying again to allow yourself to recover.
Most women who have had an ectopic pregnancy will be able to get pregnant again, even if they've had a fallopian tube removed.
The chances of having another ectopic pregnancy are higher if you've had one before, but the risk is still small (around 10%).