How a Protein Level Test Could Detect an Ectopic Pregnancy

One in every 80 pregnancies in the UK each year is an ectopic one, when the fertilised egg implants itself outside the womb. Tests for an ectopic pregnancy traditionally involve a blood test to measure 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 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 having an ectopic pregnancy have been discovered to have a lower level of a particular protein, activin B, and this could be key to easier early diagnosis and treatment.

Ectopic pregnancies put the mother at risk because of the possibility that the area where the fetus is growing – fallopian tube, cervix or ovaries – can rupture, causing potentially fatal internal bleeding. The longer the ectopic pregnancy goes undetected the more at risk the mother will be.

In the UK, five women a year die because of ectopic pregnancies which are usually terminated once the diagnosis is confirmed.

Edinburgh researchers writing in the journal Human Reproduction say they hope to develop a simple diagnostic test which could pick up any problems sooner.

Early diagnosis is not only beneficial for the mother’s health it could also prevent future fertility problems and improve the effectiveness of treatment.

Ectopic pregnancy symptoms

Sometimes women who have an ectopic pregnancy don’t experience any symptoms so the condition is only revealed in an early scan or if her fallopian tube ruptures. If there are ectopic pregnancy symptoms, they usually appear between weeks five and 14 of the first trimester and can include:

Pain on one side of the abdomen – usually severe and persistent
Bright or dark red vaginal bleeding which starts and stops.
Referred pain on the shoulder where the arm begins, usually when lying down. This can indicate internal bleeding which irritates a nerve in the diaphragm.
Discomfort or pain when passing urine or stools
Vomiting and diarrhoea
A serious symptom of an ectopic pregnancy is feeling faint and light-headed. It 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.


Unfortunately, the baby cannot be saved in an ectopic pregnancy. However, if diagnosed before the fallopian tube ruptures, the pregnancy can be safely terminated using medication or surgery.

Internal bleeding can prove fatal so if the fallopian tube ruptures, emergency surgery will be needed – often involving the removal of the fallopian tube.

Debra Aspinall is an experienced journalist and the editor and leading writer for the Emma’s Diary website, one of the UKs foremost pregnancy and baby websites. Debra writes on pregnancy related topics such as ectopic pregnancy, pregnancy and conception advice, ectopic pregnancy symptoms and etc. She also writes on women’s health and beauty issues and contributes travel articles to glossy magazines in London and the Home Counties.


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