What is an ectopic pregnancy? How it occurs and the dangers it presents

With Roe v. Wade recently being overturned by the Supreme Court, many health care professionals are concerned about women’s health and safety, particularly in dangerous circumstances related to pregnancy and reproductive health. One such circumstance is an ectopic pregnancy.

The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the 1973 landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to an abortion nationwide without excessive government interference. Now, individual states have the authority to regulate, or ban, abortions within their boundaries.

With laws limiting abortion care to people who need it, health experts are worried about how pregnant people will be impacted — especially those in dangerous health situations.

An ectopic pregnancy is an example of a dangerous health situation, and has been presented as one of many reasons why medical abortions are necessary for pregnant people, so we thought it would be a good idea to break down exactly what an ectopic pregnancy is.


Related: Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade: What that means for abortion access in Michigan

An ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency

Pregnancy begins with a fertilized egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube, into the uterus, and attaches to the uterine lining.

In an ectopic pregnancy, however, the fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus. When this happens, the pregnancy will not be viable.

People with ectopic pregnancies will have a normal positive pregnancy test. They may also experience the usual early symptoms of pregnancy, according to Mayo Clinic.

An ectopic pregnancy most often occurs in a fallopian tube, according to Mayo Clinic. However, it can occur in other places, such as the ovary or the abdominal cavity. This type of ectopic pregnancy is called a tubal pregnancy.


Ectopic pregnancies cannot proceed successfully, the fertilized egg cannot survive, and the growing tissue can threaten the life of the mother.

An ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency. The uterus is designed to expand and stretch to host a growing fetus, but the fallopian tubes are not. If the ectopic pregnancy does not resolve on its own and continues to grow, the tubes will burst as the fertilized egg develops, causing large amounts of internal bleeding inside the pregnant person.

Ectopic pregnancies need to be treated immediately to avoid injury to the fallopian tube or other organs in the abdominal cavity, which can lead to internal bleeding and death.

Read: Biden admin: Docs must offer abortion if mom’s life at risk

A diagram of an ectopic pregnancy, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic. (Mayo Clinic)

What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?

People experiencing an ectopic pregnancy may experience light vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.


If the fallopian tube ruptures, people can experience fainting, low blood pressure, shoulder pain and rectal pressure.

Serious symptoms include:

  • Sudden, severe pain in the abdomen or pelvis;

  • Shoulder pain; and/or

  • Weakness, dizziness or fainting.

If you experience serious symptoms, you should go to an emergency room.

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Can an ectopic pregnancy ever be successful?

No. The egg cannot develop normally outside of the uterus.

The fertilized egg cannot be moved to the uterus, either.

What is the treatment for an ectopic pregnancy?

The only way to treat an ectopic pregnancy is through an abortion if a natural miscarriage doesn’t occur.

To prevent life-threatening complications, the ectopic tissue needs to be removed. This could be done using medication like Methotrexate, laparoscopic surgery or abdominal surgery.


Methotrexate stops the cells from growing, ending the ectopic pregnancy. The pregnancy is then absorbed by the body over several weeks. The drug is often given by injection in one dose, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Ectopic pregnancies are more common in patients receiving fertility treatments. Mayo Clinic reports that ectopic pregnancies occur in one in every 100 people who are receiving fertility treatments, compared to a ratio of one in every 30,000 people who experience spontaneous pregnancies.

Know More is a new ClickOnDetroit series focused on explaining topics related to national and community issues to help keep you informed.

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