A positive pregnancy test is usually a cause for celebration—something you’ve waited anxiously for!—but sometimes there’s also a lot of nervous energy while you wait for a midwife or doctor to confirm the pregnancy. In between moments of joy, you might cautiously wonder about some of the scarier things like ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancy may be mistaken for menstrual pain or early pregnancy symptoms. However, this condition can very serious so it’s important to get care immediately.
In this post, we’ll answer:
- What is ectopic pregnancy?
- What causes ectopic pregnancy?
- Can an ectopic pregnancy continue?
- What are the natural treatments for ectopic pregnancy?
- What’s the best way to heal before trying again?
What is Ectopic Pregnancy?
Ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, typically in the fallopian tube—more than 95 percent of ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tube, while the rest occur in the abdominal cavity, ovaries, or cervix.
Because these parts of the body can’t accommodate a growing embryo, ectopic pregnancies are not viable. If not caught in time or left untreated, ectopic pregnancy can rupture, leading to internal bleeding and other potentially life-threatening issues.
How Common is Ectopic Pregnancy?
Ectopic pregnancy is uncommon, with less than 2 percent of pregnancies being ectopic. However, about 10 percent of women who have already had an ectopic pregnancy will have another if the underlying issue isn’t resolved.
What Causes Ectopic Pregnancy?
Half of ectopic pregnancies are due to unknown causes, but there are certain known risk factors. Ectopic pregnancy causes will vary based on a woman’s medical history and her unique body chemistry, but these factors can increase the likelihood of ectopic pregnancy:
1. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
This condition occurs when bacteria enters the vagina, often as a result of certain sexually transmitted diseases. When the sexual organs are inflamed, it can prevent a fertilized egg from passing through the fallopian tubes into the uterus where it belongs. Though uncommon, Intrauterine devices (IUDs), a form of birth control, can also cause PID.
2. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
STDs, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, cause fallopian tube and sexual organ inflammation that can result in internal damage. Chlamydia is thought to cause 50 percent of ectopic pregnancies, especially for women 25 and under. About 80 percent of people with chlamydia don’t even know they have it, and symptoms can go undetected for years, or be non-existent in most cases.
This bacteria can damage the fallopian tubes, preventing the egg from passing through and implanting in the uterus. A strong immune system may resolve chlamydia without the need for antibiotic treatment, but this will depend on the individual case.
3. History of Surgery
The vast majority—93 percent!—of abdominal and pelvic surgical procedures result in scar adhesions, which can cause inflammation and block the pathway of a fertilized egg. Scars from a ruptured appendix, infections, or surgery in the female organs can all cause ectopic pregnancy.
Prior ectopic pregnancies that end in surgery are also more likely to cause scarring and damage to the tube, which increases the risk of having another failed implantation. (source)
This condition causes the uterine lining to grow outside of the uterus, resulting in damaging inflammation and bleeding in the female organs. Women with endometriosis are about three times more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy. Researchers in a study of over 14,000 women theorized that,
“increased pelvic inflammation and structural and functional changes of the uterus that occur because of endometriosis are most likely the reason behind increased pregnancy risk.” – Source
5. Having an IUD (Intrauterine Device)
IUDs, like Mirena or Skyla, release hormones to prevent pregnancy, but this can spell trouble. When hormones are imbalanced, the fallopian tubes don’t function properly.
If pregnancy occurs while a hormonal IUD is implanted, the fertilized egg can become stuck in the fallopian tube. Up to half of pregnancies that occur with an IUD are ectopic pregnancies.
6. Birth Control
Just like hormonal IUDs, other hormonal forms of birth control can cause ectopic pregnancy. Certain hormonal birth control options, like the pill, can affect the fallopian tubes ability to properly contract and move the egg along to the uterus. Read more about safe birth control options here.
Women who are 35 and older are more at risk for developing an ectopic pregnancy than younger mamas.
The more cigarette smoke that’s inhaled, the higher the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy. In fact, smoking increases the risk by 5 percent. The nicotine can cause the tubes to spasm, preventing the egg from passing through to the uterus.
9. Low Progesterone
A study conducted by Dr. Buckley in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, revealed that low progesterone levels in pregnant women may indicate an ectopic pregnancy. In the study, 10 percent of expectant mamas with progesterone levels below 22 ng/ml had an ectopic pregnancy, while 100 percent of those with higher progesterone levels did not.
However, only about 15 percent of women who experience ectopic pregnancy will have abnormal progesterone levels, so this symptom alone can’t be used for diagnosis. For women with low progesterone, natural progesterone cream may help prevent pregnancy complications, including ectopic pregnancy.
10. Caesarean Section
C-sections can increase scar tissue around the sexual organs. The excessive tissue may damage the fallopian tubes and prevent proper function, potentially causing ectopic pregnancy. Although ectopic pregnancy from a caesarean scar is rare (an estimated 1 in 1,800 cases), the numbers are rising since over 1/3 of all pregnancies end in a C-section.
Signs of Ectopic Pregnancy
Many women with ectopic pregnancy don’t experience unusual symptoms, and 30 percent don’t even bleed. The pregnancy hormone, hCG often rises like a normal pregnancy, too, causing normal early signs of pregnancy. For these reasons, mamas may not know their pregnancy is ectopic until they go to confirm it with an ultrasound.
Those who do have symptoms may experience the following:
Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms
- Sharp abdominal or pelvic pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness or fainting
- Low back pain
- Cramps on one side of the pelvis (indicating the egg is stuck in the fallopian tube on that side)
- Shoulder tip pain
- Urge to have a bowel movement
If you believe you are newly pregnant and experience any of the above symptoms, it’s very important to contact your doctor. A ruptured ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening.
How an Ectopic Pregnancy is Diagnosed
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends using an ultrasound combined with monitoring hCG levels to diagnose ectopic pregnancy. If hCG levels are higher than 1,500 mlU per mL and a transvaginal ultrasound shows no gestational sac in the uterus, your healthcare provider will suspect an ectopic pregnancy. (source)
Can a Baby Survive an Ectopic Pregnancy?
Sadly, the fertilized egg is not able to survive, and the goal is to help mama heal and prevent life threatening complications. In 90 percent of ectopic pregnancies, the egg has never been viable and there has never been a heartbeat.
It’s normal to feel discouraged and at a loss, but if you don’t, that’s ok too. Mamas can find comfort by allowing themselves to grieve and seeking the support they need.
Here are ways to take care of yourself during this time:
- Join a support group
- Read and relax
- Pray and meditate
- Gentle stretching and exercises like yoga and walking (with a doctor’s OK)
How to Treat Ectopic Pregnancy
It will depend on your medical history and exactly what’s going on in your body, but there are several ways your doctor may address an ectopic pregnancy.
Basically this is the wait and see what happens approach. Your doctor will assess where the egg is, the state of your fallopian tubes and other sexual organs, and monitor your hCG levels. If hCG levels are dropping, this indicates your body may naturally reabsorb the fertilized egg.
An estimated 47-82 percent of women can safely use expectant management as the first line of defense in ectopic pregnancy. This method is only safe if hCG levels are low and declining, nothing has ruptured, and there is no internal bleeding. Some moms use the natural healing methods described below (castor oil packs, enzyme therapy, red light, etc. in concert with their healthcare provider, to help along their body’s reabsorption of egg.)
Though expectant management is the most natural option, ectopic pregnancy can be very serious. You should work closely with your doctor to determine if it’s right for you.
The Wurn Technique
An estimated 25-35 percent of infertility cases, which includes ectopic pregnancy, are caused by blocked fallopian tubes. Researchers found that the Wurn massage therapy technique resulted in a 61 percent success rate at opening partially or fully blocked tubes.
This ectopic pregnancy treatment can be pricey though—it typically costs $5,000, which may or may not be covered by insurance. Not all women are candidates for this method, so be sure to consult with a healthcare professional that’s familiar with the technique.
This chemotherapy drug helps to break up the cells forming in the fertilized egg so the body can reabsorb them. The drug is given as an injection, with a second injection if hCG levels aren’t decreasing fast enough. Methotrexate is not safe for those breastfeeding or with certain medical conditions.
Side effects of methotrexate include: bone marrow suppression, elevated liver enzymes, rash, hair loss, painful swelling and sores in the mouth, nausea, and diarrhea. A single dose of methotrexate has fewer side effects, but is about 5 percent less effective. The options are worth discussing with your doctor to see which one is best for your situation.
From 2002 to 2007 methotrexate treatment of ectopic pregnancy more than tripled, while surgeries decreased by 25 percent. Methotrexate can help prevent fallopian tube removal if a rupture hasn’t already occurred. Evidence is limited, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have stated methotrexate is not believed to negatively effect future fertility rates.
Over the years, more and more ectopic pregnancies have been resolved without the need for surgery and doctors now favor laparoscopic surgery, which is more effective, requires a smaller incisions, and speeds up recovery time.
If surgery is necessary, the surgeon may be able to remove just the fertilized egg, but occasionally the entire fallopian tube may need to be removed.
Unfortunately, ectopic pregnancy that ends in surgery is more likely to cause scarring and damage to the fallopian tubes, which increases the risk of a future ectopic pregnancy.
Healing From an Ectopic Pregnancy
If you want to get pregnant again, it’s important to heal any damaged tissue or scars/adhesions resulting from your ectopic pregnancy. Consider the following natural methods of healing:
Castor Oil Packs
Castor oil packs stimulate circulation and activate the lymphatic system, which is in charge of ridding the body of waste products. This is helpful for ectopic pregnancy caused by disease, surgical infections, fibroids, cysts, or other forms of inflammation. Castor oil packs also stimulate tissue healing when used consistently. Other ways to stimulate the lymphatic system include dry brushing, red light therapy, and rebounding.
Systemic enzyme therapy can help heal damage in the fallopian tubes. These enzymes remove scar tissue, reduce inflammation, and prevent scar tissue buildup. There are several different types on the market. This brand is reputable with studies to back up its effectiveness. Talk to your doctor to see if these are right for you.
Maya Abdominal Massage
Massaging the lower abdominal area can help break down and flush out scar tissue to improve reproductive organ health. This increases circulation in the area to aid the body’s healing process. Adding diluted citrus essential oils to the massage also promotes healthy circulation. Maya abdominal massage relieves stress and assists with emotional healing as a woman begins to connect with her body.
Here’s a way to self-massage, or you can find a Maya abdominal massage therapist to do it for you.
Red Light Therapy
This therapy is growing in popularity and has been used globally for decades. There are many benefits to using healthy red wave lengths, but it’s also helpful when healing from an ectopic pregnancy. If surgery is necessary, red light therapy can heal wounds faster, decrease inflammation, and even help minimize scarring. It also stimulates the lymphatic system to assist with detox.
Red light therapy can also improve depression after a pregnancy loss. In one study, 69 percent of women using red light therapy reported no longer feeling depressed, while only 36 percent of women in the placebo group did.
Iron supplementation can help prevent anemia from excessive bleeding sometimes caused by an ectopic pregnancy. Grass-fed beef liver and bio-available iron supplements, like Floradix brand, can be used. Collagen will help the skin heal faster and minimize scarring if surgery is required. Bone broth or grass-fed collagen powder are good sources.
Can You Get Pregnant After an Ectopic Pregnancy?
In most cases, yes. As much as 77 percent of women will go on to have a normal pregnancy later, regardless of ectopic pregnancy treatment used (drug, surgery, expectant management).
However, the risk for another ectopic pregnancy is higher than average, especially if any underlying cause is not addressed.
Approximately 7-15 percent of women with a previous ectopic pregnancy will have one again, and the risk rises with two or more subsequent ectopic pregnancies. An ectopic pregnancy that ended in surgery is more likely to have caused scarring and damage to the tube, which increases the risk of another abnormal pregnancy.
If a pregnancy does occur, your healthcare provider will want to begin monitoring you as soon as you get a positive pregnancy test.
How to Prevent an Ectopic Pregnancy
There is no way to guarantee you won’t have an ectopic pregnancy again, however certain things may help. While half of ectopic pregnancies occur for unknown reasons, avoiding the known risk factors listed earlier will reduce the chance of another ectopic pregnancy. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding inflammation causing foods that impair sexual organ function, like vegetable oils and sugar, may also help. Here are some additional tips:
- Choose healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night
- Reduce your stress levels
- Avoid endocrine disruptors like toxins in plastic, cleaning products, and personal care items
- Limit or avoid caffeine
- Take probiotics for gut health
- Get enough folate (though avoid folate if using methotrexate until the okay is given to use it again)
Hang In There, Mama
When you’re TTC, a set back like ectopic pregnancy can feel like a huge and insurmountable obstacle. Give yourself time to heal and to grieve before trying again, but find comfort in the fact that many, many women go onto have healthy, full-term pregnancies.
What About You?
Have you ever experienced an ectopic pregnancy? What did you do to heal?