Can the Baby Be Saved in an Ectopic Pregnancy?

Discover Whether an Ectopic Pregnancy Always Needs To Be Terminated

Ectopic Pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancies can almost never result in a live baby being born. Credit: Image © A.D.A.M.

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy in which the baby is implanted somewhere other than in the uterus—most often in the fallopian tubes, the tubes that connect your ovaries to your uterus. This is why an ectopic pregnancy is sometimes called a tubal pregnancy. As the pregnancy grows within the tube, it can cause the tube to burst open, leading to massive and life-threatening bleeding inside the woman.

After receiving a diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy, you may wonder whether anything can be done to save the baby.

Can an Ectopic Pregnancy Be Saved?

Ectopic pregnancies affect about one to two percent of all pregnancies, according to a 2014 article in American Family Physician, and although this may be difficult to hear, ectopic pregnancies cannot be saved.

When a pregnancy is growing anywhere except in the uterus, the pregnancy poses serious risks to the mother's health and, believe it or not, can even be fatal if the pregnancy is not terminated. Sadly, no medical technology currently exists to move an ectopic pregnancy from the fallopian tubes to the uterus.

The vast majority of ectopic pregnancies implant in the fallopian tubes. During a tubal pregnancy, the fetus can never be born alive. If it were to keep growing, the small fallopian tube would ultimately burst, likely before the end of the first trimester.

And if an ectopic pregnancy ruptures, the mother can suffer from serious and life-threatening complications. In fact, a ruptured ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of maternal death during pregnancy. Thus, doctors always treat ectopic pregnancies, either with surgery or medication to terminate the pregnancy, in order to protect the mother.

Extremely Rare Cases Where Ectopic Pregnancies Were Saved

You may have read in the news about a few extremely rare cases in which ectopic pregnancies go to term. There are a couple of important points to keep in mind when reading these stories.

Firstly, these cases usually involve a type of ectopic pregnancy called an "abdominal" pregnancy. In an abdominal pregnancy, the baby is not implanted in the uterus or the fallopian tubes, but somewhere else in the abdomen, such as in the liver or in another organ that has a good blood supply. The odds of such a pregnancy occurring and progressing to a viable state are extrememly small.

Secondly, although an abdominal ectopic pregnancy could, theoretically, progress to a point of viability, the situation is rare and always extremely risky for the mother's health, due to the likelihood of major hemorrhage (blood loss) at delivery. 

What Puts Women at Risk for An Ectopic Pregnancy?

Some factors put a woman at a higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy, mostly because they cause damage to one or both of the fallopian tubes.

These factors, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, include:

  • increased age at pregnancy
  • cigarette smoking
  • exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) during the mother's pregnancy
  • history of infertility or endometriosis
  • a previous ectopic pregnancy, pelvic or abdominal surgery, or tubal surgery
  • history of sexually transmitted infections or pelvic inflammatory disease

What are the Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy?

Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include an acute pain that is constant or may fade in and out within the abdomen, pelvis, or shoulder/neck area. Other signs and symptoms that may occur are vaginal bleeding that occurs outside of the normal time of menstruation, dizziness, weakness, and/or fainting.

A Word from Verywell

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, call your doctor right away. You may even experience these symptoms before you think you are pregnant. 

Sources:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (August 2011). Ectopic Pregnancy. 

Barash JH, Buchanan EM, Hillson C. Diagnosis and management of  ectopic pregnancy. Am Fam Physician. 2014 Jul 1;90(1):34-40.

Worley KC, Hnat MD, Cunningham FG. Advanced extrauterine pregnancy: diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. ​​​Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Mar;198(3):297.e1-7.

Continue Reading