An ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition in which the pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus (the womb). In a normal pregnancy, the fertilized egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus. However, if the movement of the egg is slowed or blocked through the fallopian tube, an ectopic pregnancy may result (the most common site for ectopic pregnancy is within a fallopian tube (over 90%) but may occur in the ovary, cervix, or abdomen). There are over 100,000 ectopic pregnancies reported in the United States every year.
The failure of the egg to move to the uterus may be caused by endometriosis (when cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other areas of the body, which can cause heavy bleeding, pain, bleeding between periods, and infertility); scarring after a ruptured appendix, from a past infection, or from surgery; a birth defect in the fallopian tube; or a history of a previous ectopic pregnancy.
There is an increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy for women over 35 or under 20, women who have had tubal ligation (especially two or more years after the procedure), women who have had surgery to reverse tubal litigation in order to get pregnant, pregnancy while having an IUD, women who have had many sexual partners, and as a result of some infertility treatments.
Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may include nausea, breast tenderness, abnormal vaginal bleeding, low back pain, mild cramping on one side of the pelvis, lower belly or pelvic area pain, lack of periods, and, if the area around the ectopic pregnancy ruptures and bleeds: feeling faint or fainting, low blood pressure, intense pressure in the rectum, pain in the shoulder area, or sudden, sharp, and severe pain in the lower abdomen.
Ectopic pregnancies occur in about 2% of all pregnancies (about one in 40 pregnancies) but represent 9% of all deaths in pregnancy. About one-third of women who have had an ectopic pregnancy have a normal pregnancy later but have 9 times the risk of having a second ectopic pregnancy. Less than 1% of women who have had a tubal sterilization procedure have an ectopic pregnancy. About 50% of women who have ectopic pregnancies receive outpatient treatment.
In a medical study to evaluate the accuracy of the diagnosis of presumed ectopic pregnancy, it was found that the diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy was inaccurate in nearly 40% of cases. The study suggested that a D&C was necessary to differentiate an ectopic pregnancy from a miscarriage before a woman is presumptively treated with methotrexate (methotrexate is drug often used in chemotherapy (a folic acid antagonist) that may be given to women with unruptured, early ectopic pregnancies that kills the doomed fetus without harming the woman’s fallopian tube).
The Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has stated that “the timely diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy is important to reduce the risk of rupture and to improve the success of medical treatment. Diagnosis of all women at risk for ectopic pregnancy should be prompt but is not always an emergency and should occur before rupture in a hemodynamically stable woman. Any woman of reproductive age experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding with or without abdominal pain is at risk for ectopic pregnancy. Such women should be followed closely until a diagnosis is made.”
If you or a loved one suffered injury (or worse) due to the misdiagnosis of ectopic pregnancy (the late diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy, the failure to diagnose ectopic pregnancy, or the failure to properly treat an ectopic pregnancy), you should promptly find a medical malpractice lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your ectopic pregnancy medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case involving an ectopic pregnancy, if appropriate.
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