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Ectopic pregnancy

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants and begins to grow outside the womb. The most common place that this occurs is in the Fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the womb.

Unfortunately, ectopic pregnancies can’t survive, and they can’t be saved. They pose a danger to the mother until they are removed, and this is via medication or surgery.

An ectopic pregnancy may cause you no symptoms, but symptoms usually develop between the 4th and 12th week of pregnancy. These include signs of pregnancy, like a missed period, but also lower tummy pain, often to only one side, bleeding or abnormal brown discharge from the vagina, or pain at the tip of your shoulder (relating to pain transferred from the tummy).

Why has it happened to me?

Certain factors can make you more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy, such as having an ectopic pregnancy once before, having fertility treatment, becoming pregnant while you have a contraceptive coil, or having previous surgery on your Fallopian tubes. Pelvic inflammatory disease (often caused by a sexually transmitted infection), smoking, and becoming pregnant over the age of 40 also increase your risk.

The important thing to remember is that most women who have had an ectopic pregnancy go on to have a normal pregnancy and birth afterward.

You are at a slightly higher risk of another ectopic pregnancy, but this is fairly low.

When should I see my doctor?

You may only have mild symptoms, in which case you should contact your doctor or go to the Emergency Department outside working hours.

You may have become unwell, with fever, vomiting, feeling faint, and looking pale. You need immediate medical attention in this case, as ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening, so it’s important to go to the Emergency Department.

An ectopic pregnancy can be diagnosed by ultrasound examination, and you may also have blood tests.

Do I need a fit note?

While you are being managed for an ectopic pregnancy, you may need a few days to rest and recuperate physically and mentally. You are not fit for work while having symptoms or recovering from an ectopic pregnancy.

When should I try again?

Most women will be able to get pregnant again after having an ectopic pregnancy. The loss of a child, no matter how early, can affect women physically and mentally. You may need to take time to process the experience and grieve, and your body needs to heal. Therefore, it is best to ensure that you and your partner are both physically and emotionally ready before trying for another baby.

Doctors usually advise waiting for two menstrual cycles before you try again to give you a chance for your body to repair and heal. If you had medication to terminate the pregnancy, they usually advise waiting 3 months. but check with your treating doctor.

If you do become pregnant again, it is advised to inform your doctor early, so they can arrange an early scan for you, which usually occurs around 6 weeks.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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