Ectopic Pregnancy: An Ultrasound Can Save Your Life

Negotiating an unplanned pregnancy can be a scary and confusing time. You may feel tempted to obtain the abortion pill without first having your pregnancy verified by a medical professional. We caution you against this because it can put your health in danger if you unknowingly have a life-threatening complication called an ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies cannot be treated at home with the abortion pill and require an ultrasound scan to be diagnosed. Read on to understand the condition better.

What Is an Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo, the baby, implants outside of the uterus. The baby is not able to survive when this happens. In 90% of ectopic pregnancies, the embryo implants in a fallopian tube. If the embryo causes the fallopian tube to burst open, it can lead to life-threatening bleeding and death. An ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency and requires medical attention. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, it is important to see your doctor to rule out the condition.

Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy

At first, you may only experience the usual early pregnancy signs: a missed period, nausea, and breast tenderness. An ectopic pregnancy will also give you a positive result on a pregnancy test.

However, as the embryo continues to grow, you may develop the following symptoms:

  • Light vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain
  • Upset stomach and vomiting
  • Sharp abdominal cramps
  • Pain on one side of your body
  • Dizziness or weakness
  • Pain in your shoulder, neck, or rectum

Symptoms often start 6 to 8 weeks after the last menstrual period. If you are experiencing heavy vaginal bleeding with lightheadedness, fainting, or shoulder pain, or if you have severe abdominal pain, especially on one side, call your doctor immediately. It might be an emergency and you may require immediate medical attention.

How to Diagnose an Ectopic Pregnancy

It’s not possible to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy on your own, using an at-home pregnancy test. Only a trained medical professional will be able to examine you and provide a diagnosis. The medical professional will use a transvaginal ultrasound scan to determine the location of your pregnancy and to evaluate if you are experiencing any internal bleeding. They may also order several blood tests to check your pregnancy hormone levels and to look for signs of blood loss.

It’s important to get an ultrasound in early pregnancy to detect an ectopic pregnancy as soon as possible. An embryo is usually large enough to be seen by ultrasound at 6 weeks past your last menstrual period. Find out how you can get a free limited obstetric ultrasound here.

How to Treat an Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancies require specific medical interventions and cannot be treated by a standard surgical abortion or abortion pill. 

An ectopic pregnancy that is detected early may be treated by medication which will stop the growth of the pregnancy. The doctor will follow-up treatment by checking your hormone levels to ensure the medication is working. This medication is different from the abortion pill. According to the FDA, the abortion pill, Mifepristone, should not be used to treat an ectopic pregnancy. In fact, the side-effects of taking the abortion pill can be similar to the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy and could affect the ability to properly diagnose an ectopic pregnancy.

Surgery may also be required to treat some ectopic pregnancies. During the surgery, the surgeon will remove the embryo and possibly the fallopian tube as well. This type of surgery is different from a surgical abortion.

We Can Help

Approximately 1 in 50 pregnancies turn out to be ectopic. The Pregnancy Help Center offers free limited obstetric ultrasound exams* that can help assess whether your pregnancy is developing properly in the uterus. The ultrasound exam can also tell you how far along you are and whether the baby has a heartbeat – crucial information that you will need before making any decisions about your pregnancy. Learn more about what to expect during the limited obstetric ultrasound exam here.

Facing an unplanned pregnancy can be a lonely and frightening experience. We’re here for you. We have client advocates who will provide you a safe space to discuss your situation without judgment. If you have concerns about your life circumstances, we can help you find the resources you need. You don’t have to go through this alone. Make an appointment today.

Request Appointment

*Our ultrasound services are available to qualified clients who have taken a pregnancy test at the Center. If the test is positive, we will schedule you for an ultrasound exam on the next available date, which may or may not be on the same day as your pregnancy test.