What is an ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy is one of the more serious complications and risks of IVF and can even be life threatening. Although it is well known, it is fairly rare compared to other risks associated with fertility treatments.
An ectopic pregnancy starts out like a normal pregnancy but in an ectopic pregnancy the embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus. They often implant in the fallopian tubes, which is called a tubal pregnancy. The embryo can also implant in the ovaries or cervix but this is more rare.
There is nothing a doctor or fertility specialist can do to save an ectopic pregnancy. It is not a viable pregnancy and will not result in delivering a baby. If the embryo grows in the fallopian tube, it can eventually damage or burst the tube causing heavy bleeding which can be deadly. If you suspect you are having an ectopic pregnancy, see your fertility specialist quickly for treatment. The sooner an ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed the better. Treatment is essential.
What causes an ectopic pregnancy during IVF?
Most commonly, an ectopic pregnancy is caused because there is damage to the fallopian tubes. The embryo can have a difficult time getting through a damaged tube to the uterus and can implant in the tube and begin growing.
There are many things that can cause damage to fallopian tubes and in turn increase your chances of having an ectopic pregnancy:
- PID or pelvic inflammatory disease. You can get PID from an STD such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. These are routine tests that are usually offered before fertility treatment begins. Ask your doctor about testing for STDs.
- Smoking can increase your chances of an ectopic pregnancy.
- Endometriosis causes scar tissue in or around the fallopian tubes and can increase your chance of having an ectopic pregnancy.
- Previous surgery dealing with your pelvic region or fallopian tubes can increase your chance of an ectopic pregnancy.
- IVF can increase your chance of an ectopic pregnancy.
How is an ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?
There are a few things that can diagnose an ectopic pregnancy. First of all, you have to be pregnant so a urine test or blood test will likely show that you are pregnant. Then, if an ectopic pregnancy is likely your doctor can perform a pelvic exam to check the size of your uterus to feel for any type of growths, a blood test that will check your hCG level or an ultrasound that can check for pregnancy. A pregnancy can often be seen in the uterus 6 weeks after your last menstrual period.
Are there any signs or symptoms that I’m having an ectopic pregnancy?
Early into a pregnancy it’s often hard to differentiate an ectopic pregnancy from a healthy pregnancy. The same symptoms usually arrive such as fatigue and tiredness, nausea, sore breasts, headaches and a missed period.
Some signs of an ectopic pregnancy are:
- Belly or pelvic pain that may be sharp on one side and then spreads throughout your belly.
- Vaginal bleeding
If ever in doubt, make sure to contact your doctor asap so it does not develop into a larger problem.
How can my fertility specialist or doctor treat an ectopic pregnancy?
As with most medical treatments, surgery and medicine is the most common form of treatment for an ectopic pregnancy. This treatment is done as soon as the doctor can diagnose the ectopic pregnancy to help prevent further damage and harm.
If the ectopic pregnancy is found early enough, medicine might be the first form of treatment before the tube is harmed. A common shot that is given is called methotrexate and this will end the ectopic pregnancy. Further blood testing is usually done to make sure the shots were successful.
If the pregnancy has developed further that the first few weeks, surgery is usually the best options to treat an ectopic pregnancy. This surgery will often be laparoscopy which can be done though small incisions through the belly. Your doctor will be able to guide you in the right direction depending on where you are at in the pregnancy.
How does this affect my fertility and chances of getting pregnant in the future?
Sometimes more so than the actual physical part of losing a pregnancy, the emotional and mental damage is hard to handle. There are many places you can seek help and support and is encouraged in such circumstances. Depression is common when going through fertility treatments and pregnancy in general. Be sure to monitor your behavior and if you see a change, contact your doctor for more help.
Just because you had an ectopic pregnancy does not mean you can’t have a normal pregnancy in the future. It may mean that you do have fertility issues to deal with and you may have trouble getting pregnant and you may be more likely to have another ectopic pregnancy.
If you decide to try again and get pregnant, make sure your fertility specialist or doctor knows that you have already had an ectopic pregnancy in the past so they can monitor you more closely.
What are my chances of having an ectopic pregnancy?
According to the US National Library of Medicine, ectopic pregnancies occur in 1 in every 40 to 1 in every 100 pregnancies.
Can an ectopic pregnancy be prevented?
Unfortunately, an ectopic pregnancy cannot be prevented. Serious harm and tubal damage can be decreased if the ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed early so be sure to see your doctor if you suspect you are having an ectopic pregnancy.