What is an ectopic pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy is when an embryo (fertilized egg) grows in the wrong place outside the womb, like in a fallopian tube or attached to an ovary. An ectopic pregnancy always ends in pregnancy loss. Without treatment, it can lead to heavy bleeding and even death for the woman. If you have signs or symptoms of ectopic pregnancy, like bleeding from the vagina or pain in the pelvic area, call your provider right away.  Learn more at:

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that is growing outside of the uterine cavity.

Dr. Diana K. Blythe, MD

Most pregnancies are intrauterine, or inside the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterine cavity. These pregnancies are not viable (capable of surviving) and pose great risk to the mother when they rupture. 

"Ectopic" means "out of place"—and in an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg has implanted outside the uterus (the womb). Most ectopic pregnancies occur in a fallopian tube, which is why they are sometimes called "tubal pregnancies." But a fertilized egg can also settle in the abdomen, cervix, or ovary.

An ectopic pregnancy won't result in a live birth. Only the uterus has the space and nurturing tissue needed for the egg to develop normally.

Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, where it cannot develop normally. This can be a life-threatening condition requiring immediate treatment. Ectopic pregnancies occur in one in fifty to a hundred pregnancies. Most are caused by an infection or inflammation of the fallopian tube, scar tissue or adhesions from previous tubal or pelvic area surgeries, or a tubal abnormality. If you have had a previous ectopic pregnancy, pelvic surgery, or pelvic inflammatory disease, or if you conceived using assisted reproductive techniques, your risk may be higher. In addition, if your mother used DES while pregnant with you, your risk may be higher.

If you have an ectopic pregnancy, you may have a positive pregnancy test and all the signs of early pregnancy. Vaginal bleeding, dizziness, weakness, and gastrointestinal discomfort are common early symptoms. As the pregnancy progresses, the pressure in the tube may cause stabbing pains, cramps, pain in your shoulder, or a dull ache that may vary in intensity, and come and go. It is critical to contact your provider if you have vaginal bleeding and/or sharp pain in the pelvic area, abdomen, and/or neck and shoulders. If an ectopic pregnancy is not diagnosed early, the fallopian tube can rupture, causing severe blood loss and shock.

If you have any of the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy, your health care provider will check your hormone levels every other day and do a vaginal ultrasound as early as possible (about 6 weeks). Ectopic pregnancy is occasionally misdiagnosed as an early miscarriage. This is why your provider may ask you to get a blood pregnancy test after a suspected miscarriage. The test can help confirm the presence or absence of fetal tissue in the fallopian tube.

When doctors detect an ectopic pregnancy, they will remove the embryonic tissue and try to save the tube. Blood tests will be performed to check changes in your levels of HCG after any of these treatments in order to confirm that no ectopic tissue remains.

The loss of an ectopic pregnancy may bring on feelings like those that follow miscarriage, including fear that such a pregnancy could happen again. If you have had internal bleeding or a traumatic emergency surgery, talk with your provider about how this may affect future conception and pregnancies, and how to minimize your future risks.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth

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Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Typically after fertilization, the blastocyst (the egg-sperm union) implants in the endometrial lining of the uterine cavity. But in ectopic pregnancies, which occur in about 2 percent of pregnancies, the implantation happens somewhere in the Fallopian tube—near the ovary, in the middle, or where the tube inserts into the uterus.

YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

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YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

Few life experiences feature the extreme emotional swings as pregnancy does -- it's a monumental mix of both intense excitement and skip-a-beat anxiety. If you're like most, you scour web sites, read...
Dr. Deborah Raines, MSN
Nursing Specialist

An ectopic pregnancy is an abnormal pregnancy which implants outside of the uterus. The most common place for an ectopic pregnancy is in the fallopian tube, but it also can occur in the abdomen or pelvic.

Dr. Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

An ectopic pregnancy is any pregnancy that is occurring outside of the uterine cavity. 95% of ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tube. This is why most people call it a tubal pregnancy. There are rare occasions where an ectopic pregnancy can be on the ovary or in the abdominal cavity or the cervix.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.