An ectopic pregnancy is relatively uncommon, occurring in approximately 1 out of every 40 pregnancies. While miscarriage remains the most common complication early in a pregnancy, some research indicates that ectopic pregnancies may be on the rise. Researchers point to increasing STD rates as well as more women using assisted reproductive technologies, including in vitro fertilizations. (1)
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg fails to travel to the uterus, and it becomes implanted in the fallopian tube, cervix, ovary, myometrium or abdominal cavity. Overwhelmingly, the most common location for an ectopic pregnancy is in the fallopian tube. This is referred to as a tubal pregnancy. (2)
As the embryo grows outside of the uterus, in can cause significant discomfort and pain, as well as severe internal bleeding that can result in death. While maternal mortality rates have been on the decline, ectopic pregnancies are still responsible for up to 6 percent of all maternal deaths. (3)
If you experience ectopic pregnancy symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Treatment requires the removal of the embryo and damaged tissue; the pregnancy cannot continue. Natural treatments are available to help in both the physical and emotional aspects of recovery.
What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg becomes implanted somewhere other than the uterus. The most common location is the fallopian tube, resulting in a tubal pregnancy. (4)
An egg can also implant itself in the cervix, ovary, the abdominal cavity or in other locations along the normal path to the uterus. When a fertilized egg starts to grow, ectopic pregnancy symptoms can start to appear.
It is important to realize that a fertilized egg can’t grow properly outside of the uterus, and, left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can result in a life-threatening medical emergency.
Signs and Symptoms
When ectopic pregnancy symptoms start depends on the individual. If you take a pregnancy test, it will show a positive result, and you may begin to experience typical pregnancy symptoms including missed periods, breast tenderness, nausea and morning sickness. (5)
As the fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus, the signs of ectopic pregnancy can become more pronounced and may include:
- Pelvic pain
- Light vaginal bleeding
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Heavy bleeding with shoulder pain
- Extreme lightheadedness
- Severe abdominal pain
Seek emergency medical attention immediately if your symptoms are severe as heavy internal bleeding can result in death.
The most common type of an ectopic pregnancy is a tubal pregnancy. Tubal pregnancy symptoms are caused when a fertilized egg can’t pass through to the uterus. It is most often related to a problem inside the fallopian tube. A malformed fallopian tube, inflammation or scarring can prevent the egg from traveling to the uterus. (5)
It is important to note that researchers have found that up to 50 percent of women who are diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy have no identifiable risk factors. However, the following risk factors are associated with ectopic pregnancies: (2)
- Smoking cigarettes just prior to becoming pregnant can increase your risk for an ectopic pregnancy. Smoking is believed to increase the risk by causing scarring or general tubal dysfunction.
- A history of or a current case of gonorrhea or chlamydia is associated with an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases can cause inflammation and infection in the reproductive system, including the fallopian tubes.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease or history of pelvic infections.
- In vitro fertilization treatments and other types of fertility treatments can increase the risk for an ectopic pregnancy. It is estimated that between 2 percent and 5 percent of pregnancies that occur from IVF treatments are ectopic. (6)
- If you have an intrauterine device (IUD) and become pregnant, it is likely to be an ectopic pregnancy.
- If you have had the permanent birth control procedure, a tubal ligation, and you become pregnant, it can be ectopic pregnancy.
- Certain surgical procedures to repair or correct a damaged fallopian tube can increase your risk for an ectopic pregnancy.
- Your risk for an ectopic pregnancy is greater if you’ve already experienced one.
- Being over the age of 35.
Decrease Your Risk
While there is no way to prevent an ectopic pregnancy, you can decrease your risk by quitting smoking, treating sexually transmitted diseases, practicing safe sex by using condoms and limiting the number of sexual partners.
There is no singular ectopic pregnancy test. To diagnose an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor will conduct a variety of tests including:
- Pelvic examination
- Pregnancy test
- Blood tests to check for blood loss, anemia and to verify blood type in the event you need a blood transfusion.
Treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is to remove the embryo; a fertilized egg cannot develop properly unless it is in the uterus. The severity of symptoms as well as at what stage the ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed, will determine how the embryo and tissue are removed. Options include: (7)
- Methotrexate injection: This medication stops cell growth while dissolving existing ectopic tissue. This conventional ectopic pregnancy treatment is only suitable in the early stages.
- Laparoscopic procedure: A small incision is made and a tube with a camera is inserted to locate and remove the ectopic pregnancy. The fallopian tube may be repaired or removed, depending on the severity of the damage.
- Emergency abdominal surgery: Surgery may be required if symptoms are severe. Heavy internal bleeding can cause the death of the mother, and the ruptured tube or tissue must be removed.
Natural Ways to Help Recovery
After the loss of a pregnancy, it takes time to heal both physically and emotionally. Incorporate natural treatments for your physical and emotional symptoms and remember to be gentle and kind to yourself throughout the healing process.
1. Support Group
Talking to other women who have experienced a loss of pregnancy may help you navigate the feelings of grief, anger, fear and solitude. The nonprofit Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support offers online and in-person support groups across the United States and Canada. Groups focus on positive resolution of grief through emotional, physical, social and spiritual healing. (8)
Losing a baby is hard on both partners. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, men grieve over the loss of a pregnancy more than researchers once believed. Attending a counseling session with your partner may help resolve feelings of guilt or blame and draw the two of you closer together while learning to overcome the grief. (9)
An ectopic pregnancy causes hormones to be in constant flux leading to symptoms of depression including anger, sadness, fear, grief and guilt. Effective natural treatments for depression include the use of essential oils and certain supplements.
For example, diffusing lavender oil, or including it in massages, can help promote a sense of calm and peace by relieving emotional stress and reducing anxiety. A small pilot study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that an essential oil blend that included lavender and rose oils helped reduce anxiety and depression in postpartum women. (11)
Depression symptoms may also be helped by increasing vitamin B12 and folate levels according to the Mayo Clinic. Vitamin B12 especially helps to produce serotonin naturally and may help relieve depression symptoms. (12)
In an article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, taking 1 milligram of vitamin B12 daily may improve depression treatment outcomes. This report also discusses the importance of folate in the role of depression and recommends a dose of 800 micrograms daily. (13)
1. Follow Doctor’s Recommendations
Recovering from an ectopic pregnancy takes time. If you had surgery, follow all guidelines for wound care, rest and fluids. It is also important to follow the recommendations for pelvic rest by refraining from sexual intercourse, tampon use and douching as directed. (4)
2. Avoid Alcohol
According to the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, drinking alcohol is not advised after taking the drug methotrexate as they both are metabolized in the liver. The drug can still be present up to 100 days after a dose. Drinking alcohol can make you feel ill and potentially damage your liver. (14)
3. Folic Acid
If you were given methotrexate, it is important to restore folate levels. Methotrexate is known to reduce the level of this essential nutrient in your body. A folate deficiency can cause fatigue, poor immune function, poor digestion, anemia and changes in mood. Low levels of folate are also associated with depression, and as mentioned above, 800 micrograms daily is recommended for depression symptoms. (14)
In addition, add folate-rich foods like beef liver, spinach, black-eyed peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce and avocado to your diet to help boost levels naturally.
4. Treat Scars
If you had surgery, treat scars naturally topically and internally. A healthy diet, drinking eight to 10 glasses of fresh water daily and topical application of moisturizing oils can help reduce the appearance of a scar after surgery.
A recent clinical study published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences cites several natural plant oils that can help with wound healing. Two of note from this study include coconut oil and avocado oil. (15)
Coconut oil is great for the skin, and this study points out that FFA-rich coconut oil helps to repair the skin when applied topically. In addition, researchers note that it has strong antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial activity making it a healthy option for helping to treat surgical scars.
Avocado oil is a great healthy oil with a high-smoke point perfect for sautéing your favorite foods. But researchers have now identified it as an effective topical treatment for wounds. It is recognized for increasing collagen and decreasing inflammatory cells in animal models and can provide much-needed moisture to a scar.
Only after given the all-clear from your medical team should you begin exercising. If you had surgery, it may be four to eight weeks before exercise is advised. Even then, avoiding weights and any jarring exercises will likely be recommended if you had a more aggressive surgery.
However, when you are able, start to incorporate gentle stretching, tai chi, yoga, Pilates, walking and even swimming when your wounds are healed. Exercise is a great way to heal not only physically, but it can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.
An ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening if left untreated. As the egg grows, it can rupture, damaging tissue and lead to heavy internal bleeding.
If you suspect an ectopic pregnancy, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
- An ectopic pregnancy occur in 1 out of every 40 pregnancies.
- It is caused by a fertilized egg becoming implanted in an area other than the uterus.
- The embryo cannot survive outside of the uterus, and must be removed conventionally through an ectopic pregnancy surgery or injection of methotrexate.
- Left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can cause severe internal bleeding resulting in death.