One in every 80 pregnancies in the UK each year is an ectopic pregnancy, when the fertilized egg implants itself outside the womb. Ectopic pregnancies can be detected through a blood test measuring the levels of the pregnancy hormone, HCG. These levels are lower than normal if the pregnancy is ectopic.
A vaginal ultrasound can also be used to check for the location of the pregnancy. In some cases, a laparoscopy may be given to confirm an ectopic pregnancy, and then the embryo or fallopian tube is usually removed during the procedure. However, new research has shown that a protein level test could be an early indicator of an ectopic pregnancy.
Women with ectopic pregnancies have been discovered to have lower levels of activin B, a protein that could be key to earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Ectopic pregnancies are dangerous for the mother because the fetus is growing in an area outside the uterus – usually in the fallopian tube, cervix, or ovaries. If this growth goes undetected, it could cause the organ to rupture and potentially lead to fatal internal bleeding for the mother. The longer an ectopic pregnancy goes undetected, the more at risk the mother will be.
In the United Kingdom, five women die annually from ectopic pregnancies. These pregnancies are typically terminated once the diagnosis is confirmed.
Edinburgh’s researchers writing in the journal Human Reproduction say they hope to develop a simple diagnostic test which could help detect problems sooner.
Early diagnosis is not only beneficial for the mother’s health, but it could also prevent future fertility problems and improve the effectiveness of treatment.
Ectopic pregnancy symptoms
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. If there are no symptoms, the condition is only revealed during an early scan. If there are ectopic pregnancy symptoms, they usually appear between weeks five and 14 of the first trimester and can include:
– abdominal pain
– vaginal bleeding
– shoulder pain
– nausea and vomiting
– dizziness or lightheadedness
– low blood pressure
One serious symptom of an ectopic pregnancy is feeling faint and light-headed. This can be a sign that the fallopian tube has ruptured, causing dangerous internal bleeding. This is a state of collapse and may also involve feeling sick, going pale and having an increased heart rate.
In an ectopic pregnancy, it is not possible to save the baby. However, if the ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed before the fallopian tube ruptures, the pregnancy can be ended safely using medication or surgery.
If the fallopian tube ruptures, emergency surgery will be needed to prevent internal bleeding, which can be fatal. The surgery often involves the removal of the fallopian tube.
Debra Aspinall is an experienced journalist, editor, and writer for Emma’s Diary, one of the UK’s leading pregnancy and baby websites. Debra writes on a variety of pregnancy topics, such as ectopic pregnancy, pregnancy and conception advice, ectopic pregnancy symptoms, and more. She also writes on women’s health and beauty issues and contributes travel articles to glossy magazines in London and the Home Counties.