Ectopic Pregnancy

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

Fertilization normally occurs in the fallopian tube and then the smooth muscle contractions and the ciliary beat within the fallopian tubes assisting the fertilized egg in its journey into the uterus.  (Cilia are microscopic hairs-like projections at the end of the fallopian tubes that beat rhythmically at a frequency of 3.46Hz as they sway!)  In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg fails to implant in a normal position in the uterus where it can develop and thrive.  Instead, the pregnancy attaches elsewhere in the reproductive system or body – usually in the fallopian tube.  But an ectopic pregnancy can also implant near the ovaries, in a prior c-section scar inside the uterus, in the lower part of the cervix, or in the abdominal cavity, etc.  About 90% of all ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tube. 

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In medical terms “ectopic” refers to something that occurs abnormally. Ectopic pregnancy occurrence is rare and occurs in about 2 in every 100 pregnancies.

With an ectopic pregnancy there is no hope of a live, healthy birth.  A fallopian tube cannot expand the same way a uterus can, and if left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy will grow too large, causing the fallopian tube to burst open.   This rupture represents a life-threatening emergency for the mother, who could potentially bleed to death within a few hours.

When an egg and sperm fertilize, part of that egg turns into the placenta and the other part of the egg turns into the fetus.  But when a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube, there is usually abnormal development, a mass of cells develops, and there is no fetus.  In the rare situations that there is a detectable fetus, it is often abnormal because it does not have the usual blood flow and there is no endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) that supplies blood and nutrients to the fetus.  Unfortunately, even in the unlikely event a normal fetus is detected, there is no medical technology that can remove the placenta along with the fetus and relocate it to the uterus.  Once the placenta is disrupted, the pregnancy ends.