Although many women have bleeding and cramping in early pregnancy that is entirely normal, in some cases it can be early signs of an ectopic pregnancy – which is why it is important to get any spotting or pains checked out as soon as possible.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an egg has been fertilized outside of the womb, most often in the fallopian tubes. If this happens, the pregnancy will often naturally end, but if left untreated or undiagnosed, it can be very serious.
Here is our guide to catch early signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy
Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy usually develop between the 4th and 12th weeks of pregnancy. At first, an ectopic pregnancy might not cause any signs or symptoms. In other cases, early signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy might be the same as those of any pregnancy — a missed period, breast tenderness and nausea.
5 main symptoms that are not to be missed
You may have an ectopic pregnancy if you miss a period, have a positive pregnancy test and have other signs of pregnancy, in addition to any of the 5 main symptoms listed below.
Vaginal bleeding tends to be a bit different to your regular period. It often starts and stops, and may be watery and dark brown in color. Some women mistake this bleeding for a regular period and don’t realize they’re pregnant. Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy is relatively common and isn’t necessarily a sign of a serious problem, but you should seek medical advice if you experience it.
One-sided tummy pain
You may experience tummy pain, typically low down on one side. It can develop suddenly or gradually, and may be persistent or come and go.
Tummy pain can have lots of causes, including stomach bugs and trapped wind, so it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an ectopic pregnancy.
But you should get medical advice if you have it and think you might be pregnant.
Shoulder tip pain
Shoulder tip pain is an unusual pain felt where your shoulder ends and your arm begins. It’s not known exactly why it occurs, but it can be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy causing some internal bleeding, so you should get medical advice right away if you experience it.
Discomfort when going to the toilet
You may experience shooting / sharp vaginal pain, pain when going for a pee or poo. You may also have diarrhea. Some changes to your normal bladder and bowel patterns are normal during pregnancy, and these symptoms can be caused by urinary tract infections and stomach bugs. But it’s still a good idea to seek medical advice if you experience these symptoms and think you might be pregnant.
Symptoms of collapsing/fainting
In a few cases, an ectopic pregnancy can grow large enough to split open the fallopian tube. This is known as a rupture. Ruptures are very serious, and surgery to repair the fallopian tube needs to be carried out as soon as possible. Signs of a rupture include a combination of:
- A sharp, sudden and intense pain in your tummy
- Feeling very dizzy or fainting
- Feeling sick
- Looking very pale
- Increasing or slowing pulse rate or falling blood pressure may also be present
Diagnosing ectopic pregnancy
It can be difficult to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy from the symptoms alone, as they can be similar to other conditions. Your GP may examine you and offer a pregnancy test. If you have the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy and a positive pregnancy test, you may be referred to an early pregnancy assessment service for further testing. Some of the tests you may have are outlined below.
Transvaginal ultrasound scan
It involves inserting a small probe into your vagina that emits soundwaves to create a close-up image of your reproductive system on a monitor. This will often show whether a fertilized egg has become implanted in one of your fallopian tubes.
Blood tests to measure the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) may also be carried out twice, 48 hours apart, to see how the level changes over time. The level of hCG tends to be lower and rise more slowly over time than in a normal pregnancy.
It involves making a small cut in your tummy and insert a viewing tube called a laparoscope while you are under general anesthesia, to locate pregnancy.
Getting pregnant after an ectopic pregnancy
It is usually advised to wait for at least two full menstrual cycles before trying to get pregnant again. The ending of an ectopic pregnancy is a form of miscarriage – and the feelings that a woman and her partner may experience can be similarly difficult. Talking about your feelings with a counsellor can help you with your emotions.