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Five Things To Know About Ectopic Pregnancy


In a new memoir, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis revealed she terminated two pregnancies. One, in 1996, involved a fetus that had developed a severe brain abnormality. The other was what is known as an ectopic pregnancy.

Dr. Ignacio Nunez, a gynecologist and surgeon at Texas Health Arlington Memorial, explains ectopic pregnancy.

From the interview with Dr. Nunez…

What is ectopic pregnancy? “…an abnormal pregnancy that instead of growing inside of the womb or the uterus, instead is growing in the fallopian tubes."

What causes ectopic pregnancy? "It’s some type of scarring of the fallopian tube is what leads to the ectopic pregnancy. But a fallopian tube that’s been damaged by a variety of different things may not be able to get the pregnancy into the uterus. So, things like previous surgery, for example, an appendicitis, or a history of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia or gonorrhea, any abdominal surgery, even caesarian sections, can cause scar tissue that can lead to an ectopic pregnancy.”

Can babies ever survive an ectopic pregnancy?  "No, not at all. In fact, an ectopic pregnancy is considered an abnormal pregnancy and it has to be dealt with, it has to be removed, it has to be treated in some fashion. You can’t leave it there.  Those ectopic pregnancies are non-viable from the beginning and they’re doomed, and if it’s not taken care of, the woman can also die."

Is ending an ectopic pregnancy the same as an abortion?  "No, absolutely not. In fact, the definition of an abortion is a pregnancy that occurs in the hollow cavity of the uterus that’s expelled outside naturally – that would be a spontaneously miscarriage most people are familiar with – or an elected termination where devices are put inside the vagina and the embryo is extracted from the uterus."

Will an ectopic pregnancy prevent having children in the future? "Possibly, because of the scarring. Modern treatment of ectopic pregnancy today is to diagnose it as early as we possibly can in an office setting before it causes pain and bleeding. In those women who don’t get into the office to be seen, those women end up usually showing in the emergency room with severe pain, internal bleeding, and we have to do surgery to remove the fallopian tube. And when you lose a tube, it cuts your natural ability to get pregnant down about 50 percent."

For more information:

Ectopic Pregnancy: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Treatment

Ectopic Pregnancy (National Institutes of Health)

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.