Pregnancy: Ectopic/Tubal Pregnancy and Miscarriage

  • Esta guía en Español
  • Este guia em Português


Normal pregnancy: A normal pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants inside of the uterus. The fertilized egg continues to grow developing into a fetus.

Ectopic pregnancy: An ectopic pregnancy happens when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy can occur in the ovary, abdomen, cervix or fallopian tube, but more than 95% of the time it occurs in the tube. That’s why an ectopic pregnancy is often considered the same thing as a “tubal pregnancy”.

Tubal pregnancy: A tubal pregnancy occurs after the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube and begins to develop. The egg, however, cannot survive outside of the uterus because it will not get the nutrients it needs, nor have enough room (in the tube) to grow.

What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?

The early symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are the same as a normal pregnancy, such as a missed period, breast tenderness, and sometimes, nausea. Some women may not experience early symptoms or “warning signs.”

Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may include:

  • Vaginal bleeding (usually light at first, then bleeding often becomes heavier)
  • Cramping and pain in the lower abdomen or belly

Later symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may include:

  • Severe belly pain
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness

Who is at risk for an ectopic pregnancy?

Any female can have an ectopic pregnancy, but certain conditions can put you at a higher risk.

These conditions include:

  • Previous ectopic pregnancy
  • Pelvic infections in the past (such as chlamydia and gonorrhea) that may have caused scarring of the fallopian tubes
  • Scarring of the fallopian tube(s) from past surgery

Can a fertilized egg survive outside of the uterus?

Very rarely but in general a fertilized egg cannot live outside of the uterus. It needs space to grow and a source of nourishment.

What are the types of treatment for ectopic pregnancy?

The type of treatment depends on the location of the pregnancy and your preference. A medicine called Methotrexate may be given as several injections.  This medicine works by stopping the egg from growing and dissolving the cells. Methotrexate is more successfully when an ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed earlier, but it does require follow-up blood draws afterwards to ensure the pregnancy has been successfully treated. Alternatively, surgery is another option and may be done through small incisions (laparoscopy). Surgery may be recommended especially if the fallopian tube has burst and resulted in bleeding.

Females are born with two fallopian tubes. If one is damaged or removed, the other tube should function normally.

If you think you could be pregnant, it’s important to find out and get early prenatal care. If you have pain and bleeding during pregnancy, you need to be aware this is NEVER normal. If you have any unusual symptoms including; pain, vaginal bleeding, lightheadedness, dizziness, or nausea, go to the closest Emergency Room (ER) and get checked right away. Tell the ER staff if you are sexually active and get a pregnancy test. If the test is positive, you’ll likely have a pelvic ultrasound to make sure that the pregnancy is in the right place.


A normal pregnancy takes about 38 weeks for the fertilized egg to develop into a fetus, then a full-term baby. However, there are times when the fertilized egg doesn’t continue to grow and the pregnancy is lost. An early pregnancy loss (before 20 weeks) is called a miscarriage. Sometimes a miscarriage happens before a teen or woman even knows she’s pregnant, and there is usually nothing that she did to cause it. Having a miscarriage is upsetting. It will take time to heal both physically and emotionally.

What is the medical term for miscarriage?

The medical term for miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion”, but it’s not the same thing as a therapeutic or planned abortion. A spontaneous abortion is when a pregnancy ends “spontaneously”, unexpectedly, or suddenly. There are different reasons why this happens, but most often the reason is unknown.

What causes miscarriage?

There can be different reasons that a pregnancy will end suddenly. Most of the time miscarriage happens because the fertilized egg or fetus is not growing or developing normally. If the fetus doesn’t form and the pregnancy tissue does not grow, this is called a “blighted ovum”.

What is a blighted ovum?

A blighted ovum is a fertilized egg that has a placenta but no embryo. The fertilized egg attaches itself to the inside of the uterus. The sac develops, but since there is no embryo, the pregnancy cannot continue.

What happens when the fetus stops growing?

If the fetus stops growing (early fetal demise) then there will be a miscarriage. The fetus is usually very small and if the tissue is passed it doesn’t look like a fetus.

What are other reasons for an early miscarriage or blighted ovum?

  • Most often the cause of a blighted ovum is unknown and will not occur again
  • Genetic factors such as a problem with the chromosomes (genes) of the fetus
  • Molar pregnancy also called GTD (gestational trophoblastic disease)

What does NOT cause miscarriage?

We know that normal activity, regular exercise, and most jobs do not cause miscarriage. There is also no proof that having sex will cause miscarriage.

Who is at risk for having a miscarriage?

Anyone can have a miscarriage, but a teen or woman is at a higher risk if she has one or more of the following conditions or behaviors:

  • Infection of the uterus (womb) or fetus
  • Health problems such as uncontrolled diabetes
  • Problems with the uterus (abnormal shape)
  • Problems with the cervix (second or third trimester)
  • Smoking
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol

What are the symptoms of miscarriage?

Bleeding is the most common symptom of miscarriage; however, some teens/women can have light bleeding during the first few months of pregnancy without problems. This may seem confusing. It may be helpful to think of the following symptoms as “warning signs” and a reason to call your health care provider.

Warning signs of miscarriage:

  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • Cramps
  • Fluid that suddenly gushes from the vagina
  • Thick bleeding (blood clots/tissue) from the vagina – call your health care provider right away!

What will happen if I have to go to the hospital?

You will likely need to have a pelvic exam to see if your cervix has dilated (opened) and/or a pelvic ultrasound.

If your cervix has dilated, it’s likely that you’ve had a complete or partial miscarriage. If your health care provider feels that you have had a “complete” miscarriage, after you have been examined, you may not need to have a procedure. Sometimes the tissue doesn’t completely come out of the uterus (partial miscarriage). If this happens, you may need to have a routine procedure called a D & E.

If you are RH (D) negative, ask your provider if you need to be given a special medicine called “immune globulin.”

What is a D & E?

A “D & E” is short for dilation and evacuation. This procedure can be done in a health care provider’s office or an emergency room under local anesthesia (numbing medicine), or in an operating room at a hospital (under general anesthesia – while you are asleep). The cervix may need to be dilated (widened) and then any tissue left behind is removed.

What happens after a miscarriage?

After a miscarriage you will have some vaginal bleeding, but it shouldn’t be heavy. You may also have mild cramping in your abdomen (belly). This happens because your uterus (womb) is tightening and getting smaller (back to the shape and size it was before you got pregnant). You will need to see your health care provider for a follow-up appointment in a couple of weeks for a routine check-up or sooner if you have any of the following problems.

Call your health care provider right away if you have:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Severe pain in your belly

Your health care provider will give you specific instructions about how long you should stay home and rest, and when it is safe to be physically and sexually active.

Can I get pregnant after a miscarriage?

If you got pregnant once, you know that you are “fertile” (you ovulate and can get pregnant). It’s important to know that you can ovulate (make eggs) as early as 2 weeks after having a miscarriage. This means you can get pregnant right away if you are sexually active and you don’t use birth control. If you don’t want to become pregnant, talk to your health care provider about birth control.

Why do I feel so sad?

Whether or not your pregnancy was planned, it’s normal to feel sad when you find out that you have miscarried. Some of the feelings are due to the changes in hormones that come with pregnancy and miscarriage. You may experience a range of emotions from feeling relieved to being sad and upset.

It’s important to talk with your health care provider if you are extremely sad; crying a lot, having trouble concentrating or sleeping. Many young women say it’s also helpful to talk with a counselor or social worker.