What is an ectopic pregnancy and can it affect your fertility? Causes, symptoms and treatments

We look at what causes this potentially life-threatening fertility condition.

We asked leading fertility specialist Dr Santamaria of IVI Fertility Clinic to shed some light on ectopic pregnancies.

What is an ectopic pregnancy?

Dr Santamaria says: “An ectopic pregnancy it 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 cervix or in the uterine wall.”

[Read more: How to have a healthy pregnancy over 40: what older mums need to know]

What causes ectopic pregnancies?

Dr Santamaria says: “Although causes 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.”

How are ectopic pregnancies treated?

“Ectopic pregnancies must be very carefully surveyed. In some cases, no treatment is needed as the pregnancies will stop with no intervention. However when this doesn’t happen they have to be treated medically or even surgically,” explains Dr Santamaria.

“The administration of a drug called Metrotrexate is usually effective to treat ectopic pregnancies. If this medication fails or 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.”

Can an ectopic pregnancy affect a woman’s fertility?

Dr Santamaria says: “If an ectopic pregnancy is treated in the initial stages and only medical treatment is required, usually it doesn’t affect a woman’s fertility. However, having had an ectopic pregnancy might indicate that there is a problem in the fallopian tubes that may led to infertility.

"This 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.”