What are ectopic pregnancies and what causes them? We asked a leading fertility expert for his advice regarding spotting the signs and the best modes of treatment

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According to the NHS, around 1 in every 80-90 pregnancies is ectopic in the UK. This is around 12,000 pregnancies a year. Yet, their causes, symptoms and treatment are relatively unknown.

Requiring careful surveillance, early detection is key, so we asked top fertility specialist Dr Santamaria of IVI Fertility  to provide his advice on spotting the signs to best equip you with the tools needed to safeguard your health as best as possible. From their prevention to their prevalence, here’s what you need to know.

GTG: What causes ectopic pregnancies?

Dr Santamaria: “An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that has implanted outside the uterine cavity. This mostly occurs in the Fallopian tubes but can also occur in the ovaries, inside the abdominal cavity and even in other locations of the uterus such as the cervix or in the uterine wall.

“Although the causes of ectopic pregnancies are not fully known, a dysfunction in the movement of the Fallopian tubes, generally caused by a previous infection or inflammation, is one of the most frequent causes of ectopic pregnancy. Endometriosis, hormonal imbalances or abdominal surgeries have also been linked to causing pregnancies of this nature. Ectopic pregnancies are not hereditary – anyone can have them.”

GTG: How common are they?

Dr Santamaria: “The amount of ectopic pregnancies has increased over the last decade, particularly because the number of people with sexually transmitted diseases has risen.”

GTG: What are the symptoms to look out for?

Dr Santamaria: “Aside from regular pregnancy symptoms - such as a missed period and morning sickness - symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy can involve tummy pain, vaginal bleeding and, sometimes, shoulder tip pain (an unusual pain felt where your shoulder ends and your arm begins). These symptoms usually develop between the 4th and 12th weeks of pregnancy.”

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GTG: What should you do if you suspect that you have an ectopic pregnancy?

Dr Santamaria: “Ectopic pregnancies must be very carefully surveyed, so if you think you are suffering from one you must visit your local GP or visit a doctor immediately.”

GTG: What can happen as a result of having one?

Dr Santamaria says: “In some cases, no treatment is needed as the ectopic pregnancy will stop with no intervention. However, when this doesn’t happen, they have to be treated medically or even surgically.

“The administration of a drug called Methotrexate is usually effective in treating ectopic pregnancies. If this medication fails, the pregnancy becomes more developed or if there is abdominal bleeding due to a rupture of the tubes, surgery is the best form of treatment. In these particular cases, ectopic pregnancies may represent a life-threatening problem and will require an emergency surgical intervention.”

GTG: Is there any way to prevent them?

Dr Santamaria: “You can't prevent an ectopic pregnancy, but you can reduce the risk of one by wearing appropriate contraception (condoms) to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, or falling pregnant altogether when you are not trying for a baby.”

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GTG: Can they affect your fertility in the long-term?

Dr Santamaria: “If an ectopic pregnancy is treated early on, and only medical treatment is required, usually it doesn’t affect a woman’s fertility. However, an ectopic pregnancy indicates that there is a problem in the Fallopian tubes, and this is a problem that can lead to infertility.

“Surgical treatment for ectopic pregnancies usually consists of removing the affected tube or ovary. In some cases, when an ectopic pregnancy is implanted in the cervix, uterus or in the uterine wall, the removal of the uterus is necessary, leading to permanent infertility.”

GTG: If you’ve had one ectopic pregnancy, does it mean you’ll have another?

Dr Santamaria: “Just because you have had one ectopic pregnancy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to have another one. Having said that, it is wise to go for regular scans and a blood test if you do fall pregnant again just to make sure that the new pregnancy is running smoothly.”

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