Women often face bleeding and cramping during early pregnancy and it is usually considered entirely normal. However, in some cases, it can be an indicator of an ectopic pregnancy – which is why it is important to get any spotting or pains checked out as soon as possible.
Ectopic literally means ‘abnormal place or position’, this means the pregnancy happens at an abnormal position – most often in the fallopian tube. If this happens, the pregnancy will often naturally end, but if left untreated or undiagnosed, it can be very serious.
Catching early signs and symptoms
Initially, there are no signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy. However, first symptoms are usually noticed during the tenure of the 4th and 12th weeks of pregnancy. They usually overlap any of the normal pregnancy symptoms like a missed period, nausea and breast tenderness.
5 main symptoms that are not to be missed
Following are the 5 main symptoms of ectopic pregnancy. One should make a point to notice them besides a missed period and a positive pregnancy test.
1. Vaginal bleeding
This is very different from a normal regular period. It is a common symptom during pregnancy but might not be an indicator of a serious problem. However, in an ectopic pregnancy, vaginal bleeding irregularly starts and stops. It may be dark brown in color or watery. Some women tend to mistaken it for a normal period. One should seek immediate medical attention if this is seen.
2. One-sided tummy pain
Abdominal stomach pain is seen in women which is sometimes sudden or gradual. It can be an enduring pain or a recurring one which increases usually when you lay down on one side. However, stomach pain is a symptom of other normal stomach upset problems too. So, it need not necessarily be a sign of ectopic pregnancy. However, staying alert is important.
3. Shoulder tip pain
Some women feel pain at the end of their shoulder and from where the arm starts. It can be an indicator of some form of internal bleeding. Such type of unusual pain should be immediately reported to a doctor.
4. Discomfort when going to the toilet
Some women experience sharp vaginal pain or pain while urinating or passing stool. Certain changes in bladder and bowel movements are expected during pregnancy. However, sometimes these can be symptoms of a normal stomach upset or a urinary infection. Ensure to seek medical advice if you come across any of these.
5. Symptoms of collapsing/fainting
Sometimes an ectopic pregnancy can go unnoticed for a long time. This can end up growing adequately large and breaking the fallopian tube. Such serious ruptures call for an immediate surgery and must be done urgently.
Signs of a rupture include a combination of:
- A sharp, unexpected and penetrating pain in your stomach
- Feeling very faint or unconscious
- Feeling sick
- Looking very pale
- Increasing or slowing pulse rate or falling blood pressure may also be present
The symptoms of ectopic pregnancy overlap with many other conditions and hence are not easily diagnosed. If you suspect the presence of any of the above-mentioned symptoms along with a positive pregnancy test, your doctor might suggest one or more of the following tests to probe further.
- Transvaginal ultrasound scan
This is done by inserting a small tool inside your vagina that emits ultrasound waves and creates images of your internal organs on a screen. This test helps to detect a pregnancy developing in one of your fallopian tubes.
- Blood tests
This is done to check the presence of a pregnancy hormone (hCG). In an ectopic pregnancy, the level of this hormone rises very slowly. Hence, the change in this hormone is measured twice keeping a gap of 2 days in between.
- Keyhole surgery
This is a surgery-based approach in which a small incision is made in your stomach and a small camera-like device called a laparoscope is inserted to locate any pregnancy. You will be given a general anesthesia before conducting this surgery,
Conceiving again after an ectopic pregnancy
It is usually advised to wait for at least two full menstrual cycles before trying to conceive again. Going through an ectopic pregnancy is like a feeling of going through a miscarriage which can be emotionally overwhelming for both the partners. Talking about your feelings with a counselor can help you with your emotions.