Ectopic Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


With approximately 2% of pregnancies in Australia being ectopic it’s important to know about this condition. 

Whilst it is personally upsetting if an ectopic pregnancies occurs, the more positive news is that their incidence has decreased since the 1990s*.

Whether you’re trying to conceive, are pregnant or care for somebody who has suffered an ectopic pregnancy, this article shares what you need to know and the important signs to keep watch for.

What is an ectopic pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilised egg attaches somewhere other than in the uterus. Usually the egg attaches in the fallopian tube. It can also more rarely attach in an ovary or the cervix. Ectopic pregnancies cannot be saved. This condition requires urgent medical treatment as it can be life-threatening.

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Image: Mayo Clinic

What causes an ectopic pregnancy?

The most common cause is damaged fallopian tubes. This can make it difficult for the egg to pass through the fallopian tube to the uterus.

Factors that can increase the risk of this condition are:

  • scar tissue from endometriosis
  • pelvic inflammatory disease, where an infection spreads from the vagina to the fallopian tubes
  • reversal of a tubal sterilisation
  • getting pregnant using fertility treatments
  • damage to the fallopian tube caused by surgery or a ruptured appendix.
  • a previous ectopic pregnancy.


Signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy

According to WA Health, early detection of an ectopic pregnancy can prevent serious medical complications and may save the fallopian tube from permanent damage. Women who experience an ectopic pregnancy will initially have all the signs of a normal pregnancy. Most symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy occur between the fourth and tenth week of pregnancy.

The key signs to be watchful for are:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • severe pelvic or abdominal pain
  • feeling lightheaded or fainting
  • shock

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What to do if you think you are experiencing an ectopic pregnancy 

If you might be pregnant and have any of the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy it is important to seek medical help immediately.

Untreated, as the egg continues to grow, it can rupture the fallopian tube and cause heavy bleeding. This is a medical emergency that can could be deadly.

To diagnose an ectopic pregnancy your doctor will perform an ultrasound scan and a pregnancy test.

Treating ectopic pregnancy

Around 15 per cent of cases of ectopic pregnancy are diagnosed in the emergency room after the fallopian tube has ruptured. Sadly, there is no way to save an ectopic pregnancy. When presenting to the hospital with a suspected ectopic pregnancy a doctor will likely do:

  • a pregnancy test
  • a blood test to check the pregnancy hormone level because low levels suggest a problem such as ectopic pregnancy
  • a pelvic exam to check where the pain is
  • an ultrasound to see where the egg is located.

An ectopic pregnancy is irreversible and will never become a normal pregnancy. Immediate treatment will minimise medical impacts to the fallopian tube.

If the pregnancy is detected in the first few weeks and before the fallopian tube is damaged, medicine will be used to end the pregnancy. Should the mother be more than a few weeks gestation, surgery is required.


Getting pregnant after your ectopic 

Losing a pregnancy is incredibly hard. It’s ok to grieve, and to seek support if needed.

The good news is that the odds after this experience are still in your favour. According to the Ectopic Trust, the chances of having a future successful pregnancy are very good and 65% of women are healthily pregnant within 18 months of an ectopic pregnancy. Some studies suggest this figure rises to around 85% over 2 years. Your chance of conceiving depends very much on the health of your tubes.

If you have suffered this condition is it important to let your doctors know. Regular testing during future pregnancies can detect a problem early, or reassure you that the pregnancy is normal.

*Ectopic Pregnancy Statistics: myVMC. 

If you’re looking for more reading on pregnancy loss you might like to view one woman’s story of surviving 35 Miscarriages or Miscarriage Signs, Symptoms and How to Stop the Fear of Trying Again


Avatar of Kerry Rosser

I love my three country kids - and all things writing! Like most mums, I wear lots of hats - writer, children's author, organisational psychologist and the pairer of the odd socks!

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