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Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy occurs outside of the womb (uterus). Most ectopic pregnancies occur within a fallopian tube. Other, less common locations may include the cervix, an ovary or the abdominal cavity. This type of pregnancy cannot survive, because only the uterus can support the growth of a fetus and its placenta.


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Ectopic Pregnancy

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Fallopian tubes not functioning normally cause many of these pregnancies.

Other factors that can increase your risk include:

  • Previous ectopic pregnancies
  • History of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Endometriosis
  • Prior surgery on fallopian tubes or uterus
  • Fertility treatments
  • Abnormally-shaped uterus and/or fallopian tubes
  • Presence of an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Pregnancy that occurs after a sterilization procedure (tubal ligation)
  • Smoking
  • Race: non-white
  • Age: 35 or older

Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy

Symptoms may include:

  • Missed or abnormal menstrual period
  • Abdominal pain
  • Spotty vaginal bleeding
  • Pain in the shoulder
  • Fainting

Diagnosis & Testing Procedures

Tests may include:

  • Pregnancy test
  • Pelvic exam
  • Blood tests
  • Transvaginal ultrasound (to check the uterus and fallopian tubes for the presence or absence of a pregnancy)

Treatment Options


If the ectopic pregnancy is small and has not ruptured (burst), your doctor will recommend medicine to prevent further growth of the ectopic pregnancy.


You may need surgery to remove the pregnancy, especially if the ectopic pregnancy has ruptured or is not in the fallopian tube. 

If the pregnancy is in the fallopian tube, the doctor may be able to repair the tube. In severe cases, the fallopian tube may need to be removed.

Preventing an Ectopic Pregnancy

While there are no clear ways to reduce your risk of ectopic pregnancies, it may be helpful to:

  • Practice safe sex to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which can damage to the fallopian tubes and ovaries
  • Get early diagnosis and treatment of STDs


Call 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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