Spotting an Ectopic Pregnancy: What You Never Got Taught in Sex Ed

ectopic pregnancy


If not treated quickly enough, an ectopic pregnancy can be life threatening. So, what signs and symptoms should you be looking out for?

Sex education classes at school may have seemed like fun and games, but they are so very important. As you grow older, it becomes clear to see that these lessons barely scratched the surface of it all, painting a rose-tinted image of pregnancy.

The truth is, millions of women have problems before, during, and after getting pregnant, and one of these issues is ectopic pregnancies.

The delayed medical treatment of an ectopic pregnancy can be extremely serious. This is why learning to detect the signs and symptoms of it, and making sure your doctor takes you seriously, is paramount.

In this article, we hope to equip you with the knowledge to get you treated quickly and efficiently if this ever happens to you. So, to find out more about what an ectopic pregnancy actually is, the signs and symptoms of it, and how to overcome this challenge, read on…

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg never makes it to the womb, but remains within the fallopian tube. These tubes are very thin, so when the baby starts to grow within them, it can cause all sorts of problems. In many cases, the tube can rupture, which can be fatal.

Causes of an Ectopic Pregnancy

The causes of these types of pregnancy aren’t always clear, but it’s usually to do with a misshapen or damaged fallopian tube. This causes the fertilised egg to get jammed in place. Some other common risk-factors of this include:

    • Previous ectopic pregnancy
    • Older age
    • Cigarette smoking
    • Pelvic inflammatory disease
    • Fertility treatment, like home insemination or IVF, where embryos travel to the fallopian tube during the implantation stage.
    • Tubal surgery, like sterilisation or cancer removal
    • Abdominal surgery, including C-section
    • Endometriosis
    • Certain types of birth control, like the coil and the progesterone-only pill
    • Emergency oral contraception

Signs and Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy

If you begin to feel the early signs of pregnancy and take a test, then anything usual should be reported to your doctor immediately. That said, this early on, you may not realise you’re pregnant. So, any of the following ectopic pregnancy symptoms should be expressed to your doctor:

Early Signs of an Ectopic Pregnancy

The early warning signs of an ectopic pregnancy are quite tricky to determine. The NHS has provided a list of symptoms to look out for, including:

    • Signs of pregnancy, including nausea and a missed period
    • Tummy pain down low and to one side
    • Brown watery discharge
    • Vaginal bleeding
    • Discomfort when on the toilet
    • Pain the tip of your shoulder

Usually, you’ll begin with light bleeding from the vagina, as well as pelvic pain. Then, later symptoms may depend on where the blood pools. For example, if blood leaks from the fallopian tube itself, this can cause shoulder pain and an urge to go to the toilet.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should call the non-emergency health services to get a better indication of what you’re feeling. In the UK, this is the 111 phone service, but other countries have their own version of this. However, if this shoulder pain or pelvic pain is intense, you should head to the doctor.

Later Signs of an Ectopic Pregnancy

If the pregnancy continues, and you don’t realise that it is ectopic, this could be potentially life threatening. If the baby continues to grow here, it’s likely to rupture the fallopian tube. This will cause:

    • Heavy internal bleeding
    • Light-headedness and fainting
    • Shock
    • Looking very pale
    • Sharp, sudden and intense pain in your abdomen
    • Nausea

At this point, it becomes vital that you receive medical attention. This is a mortal situation, so you should call an ambulance via 999 ASAP.

Ectopic Pregnancy Treatments

If you have detected a foetus lodged in your fallopian tube, it is essential that doctors work quickly to remove it. Unfortunately, the embryo itself cannot be saved, but you can. The three steps for ectopic pregnancy treatments include:

  • Expectant management: no treatment may be necessary, but you will be carefully monitored to see how things play out.
  • Medication: methotrexate will be administered to stop the pregnancy growing.
  • Surgery: this will be used to remove the pregnancy. Often, the affected fallopian tube will need to be removed with it.

That said, things aren’t so simple if things develop into a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. At this stage, you will require emergency surgery to repair the tube before you lose too much blood.

After Effects of an Ectopic Pregnancy

This experience will likely be a trauma to your body. Firstly, the pain from surgery could last for a few weeks, including pain in your back, neck, abdomen, legs and hips. So, you may have to remain at home for a while before heading back to life as normal.

You may also have to have your stitches removed post-surgery. Often, these will be dissolvable but, if not, you may have to take another trip to the doctors for this.

It’s not just physical pain, however, that may occur. A pregnancy of this sort can be truly traumatic for the mother. Not only are you guaranteed to lose the potential foetus, but you may end up experiencing a lot of pain, stress, or worse.

This can have lasting mental effects on the expectant mother, which is more than natural. So how can this be overcome?

6 Tips for Overcoming the Trauma of an Ectopic Pregnancy

Coming to terms with what’s happened to you can be tricky. You might end up in hospital for a long period of time, which can be physically and mentally draining. What’s more, the feelings of anxiety about getting pregnant again are just the tip of the iceberg.

With this in mind, once your body has healed, it’s important that you take care of your mind too. Some tips for getting through it include:

Take Time to Heal

This doesn’t just apply physically, but also mentally. You need to take the time to register what has happened to your body, and come to terms with it. To do this, try not to rush to normal life too soon; take a few days, or even weeks, to put your feet up and relax.

Don’t Blame Yourself

There is a lot of stigma surrounding women and their experiences during childbirth. So, for a lot of women who experience a traumatic miscarriage, like this, it can make them feel as though it’s their fault.

Remember, this couldn’t be further from the truth; you are absolutely not alone in this. It’s thought that around 1 in 80 pregnancies are ectopic, which is a shocking amount. It just goes to show the lack of exposure we receive to the reality of pregnancy; it is not the perfect experience we are led to believe.

Speak to Family and Friends

The most important think of all is to not bear this burden alone. It can become easy for these feelings to overwhelm you, so be sure to lean on those around you for support.

Seek Therapy

Anxiety and stress are common aftereffects of this experience. It’s highly likely that you may experience health anxiety on discovering any symptoms later on. What’s more, you may fear getting pregnant again and, if you do, you may experience anxiety about it happening again.

What’s more, the distress of being unable to save your growing child can also have a huge and lasting effect. Some women blame themselves, which is natural, but isn’t fair on yourself. So, if these feelings become all-consuming, be sure to seek the help of a therapist.

Head to a Support Group

Alternatively, if you feel as though a one-on-one is a little too personal, you could head to a support group. Miscarriage support groups are abundant, and you might find you connect with a lot of the people in the room. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.

Stay Educated

As we’ve seen, the reality of pregnancy, and the myriad of things that can go wrong, are not talked about enough. This is not to scare you at all, but to educate you that it is not your fault if something like this happens. It is a perfectly natural and biological outcome that can’t be helped.

So, get educated about what a pregnancy entails. The number of women whose pregnancies are not perfect may shock you, but it’ll demonstrate the reality of it to you. Thus, you will become more in-tune with what it takes to grow a baby inside of you, and wont’ blame yourself for any trauma incurred from it.


Bet you never got taught that in sex education. As you can see, an ectopic pregnancy can be extremely dangerous. But, it’s not just the physical effects, but the mental effects, that can be long-lasting.

What’s more, if untreated, this can have a fatal impact on the mother. So, being aware of the signs and symptoms, and seeking medical help as soon as possible, is so important. We hope this article will help you to do just that before it’s too late.

About Theresa Duncan

Originally from Detroit, MI, Theresa has been offering health and fitness advice for the last 30 years while working as an engineer. She decided to turn her passion into a profession, and finds nothing more satisfying than helping others reach their health and fitness goals.

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