Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants in a location other than inside the uterus, usually inside a fallopian tube. Also known as a tubal pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy is non-viable and can be life-threatening to the mother. Unfortunately, many of the same symptoms are present in a viable pregnancy, making an ectopic pregnancy difficult to diagnose. Knowing the signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy, however, can help ensure you receive the earliest possible treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy
One likely symptom you will experience is a pain in your lower pelvis or abdomen. If you’ve been pregnant before, you’ll probably have an idea of what signals typical aches and pains in early pregnancy, as opposed to a pain that can be a warning sign for an ectopic pregnancy. This pain isn’t like menstrual cramping; it comes as a sharp, stabbing pain, usually located on one side. Sometimes, it occurs at the midline. It can come and go. As the days progress, the pain becomes more intense and more frequent. In cases of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, the pain becomes so intense it becomes almost debilitating. In this case, you might experience pain in the neck or shoulder.
Vaginal bleeding is a common sign of ectopic pregnancies, as well as early miscarriages. This symptom is perhaps one of the most confusing and misleading. Women believe they are miscarrying when, in reality, their pregnancy is advancing in their fallopian tube or their tube has ruptured. Your health care provider may believe this is an early miscarriage and not continue with a further diagnostic investigation. Telling your health care provider every symptom you’re having will help her determine what tests are necessary, such as an ultrasound or blood test.
Slower Increase in Pregnancy Hormone
If a tubal pregnancy is suspected, your health care provider might order a quantitative human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) test. This hCG is released by the placenta as early as eight days following conception. During a healthy pregnancy, the hCG doubles in number every 48 hours or so. A much slower increase can be an indication of a possible tubal pregnancy. You might be asked to have this test repeated over the course of a week to see if the slow increase continues.
Dizziness and Fainting
If the ectopic pregnancy has progressed to the point of rupturing or hemorrhaging, blood loss occurs, causing such symptoms as lightheadedness and dizziness. In addition, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, about 1 out of 10 women will suffer from sudden low blood pressure and fainting due to the internal bleeding caused by a ruptured fallopian tube. This is a life-threatening condition, requiring a trip to the emergency room as soon as possible.