Ectopic pregnancy can be a very frightening and distressing experience. This section of our website aims to tell you something about what it is, why it happens and more.
We talk below about what ectopic pregnancy is and what we know about its causes. On the pages that follow, we’ll talk about
- symptoms and diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy
- how it is treated and pregnancy after an ectopic
- people’s feelings.
We hope this will help at what can be a very difficult time.
You can also find more detailed information in our leaflet on ectopic pregnancy.
What is an ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy is one that develops outside of the uterus, or womb (the word ectopic means ‘out of place’). Around 1 in 80 pregnancies is ectopic and for some women, it can be life-threatening.
Most ectopic pregnancies are in one of the Fallopian tubes – the place where sperm and egg meet and the egg is fertilised. That’s why they are sometimes called tubal pregnancies or tubal ectopics. In rare cases, the pregnancy develops somewhere else – for example where the tube meets the uterus, in the cervix or in the scar from a Caesarean section. It is also possible to have a twin pregnancy where one twin is in the correct place but one is ectopic.
Can an ectopic pregnancy survive?
Not in a tubal ectopic pregnancy, as the Fallopian tube can’t stretch enough to allow the embryo to grow. If untreated, the tube may rupture (burst or tear open) and this needs to be dealt with urgently.
A non-tubal ectopic may have more room for the embryo to grow but it is extremely unlikely to survive without causing serious harm to the mother. There is also no way to transfer an ectopic pregnancy safely to the uterus.
If there is a twin pregnancy, with one ectopic and one in the right place, the uterine pregnancy may survive, but the ectopic one will need to be treated if it doesn’t resolve naturally.
Why does ectopic pregnancy happen?
We don’t always know why someone has had an ectopic pregnancy, but there are some known causes and risk factors, especially anything that can make it difficult for the fertilised egg to travel down the tube to the uterus:
- a previous ectopic pregnancy
- infection in the uterus, tubes or ovaries
- surgery on the Fallopian tube/s
- abdominal surgery, such as having your appendix out or a Caesarean section
- some fertility problems. Even an IVF pregnancy can be ectopic.
- some forms of contraception, such as the progesterone only pill.
There is also a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy in women who smoke, women under 18 and women over 35. But many women who have an ectopic pregnancy have no known risk factors and no obvious cause.
You can read more about the symptoms and diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy here.