For centuries, the very worst complication of pregnancy was considered postpartum hemorrhage after the delivery of the baby. And while that remains a concern today, it's a concern that is well known and given major attention, so most of the public is well aware of the risk, symptoms, and when to get help. Therefore, few women die of postpartum bleeding. It can be controlled with both medications and surgery if need be.
What other women, particularly people in high risk social demographics, and third world countries are unaware of is the rising risk of ectopic pregnancy. Simply put, ectopic pregnancy is any pregnancy where the zygote (fertilized ovum) begins to develop in an place in woman's body besides the uterus. The most common, and deadliest place for this to happen, is the fallopian tube (the small tube that allows an egg to be released from a woman's ovary and travel to her uterus each month.) Sperm actually meets the ovum in the fallopian tube, fertilizes it there, and then travels to the uterus in a normal pregnancy, where it implants. In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized ovum does not travel to the uterus. It instead begins to grow inside the fallopian tube, which is a very dangerous situation. After approximately 8 weeks gestation, the embryo grows big enough that it can rupture the fallopian tube, leading to massive bleeding and potentially killing the woman rather quickly. In some of these instances, because the pregnancy is early, the woman has no idea she is pregnant. The fertilized ovum can attach other places as well, including the ovary, cervix, and even the peritoneal cavity - which, although extra-uterine, has very occasionally resulted in a live baby born via Cesarean Section.
Women need to know both risk factors and warning signs for ectopic pregnancy, as reported by AllAfrica. Risk factors include
- Maternal age of 35 or greater
- 2) Previous ectopic pregnancy
- Fallopian tube surgery or reversal of tubal ligation
- Sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, the last of which is especially dangerous if it results in pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Assisted reproductive therapies such as IVF.
- Those who have an IUD.
What are some of the symptoms to be aware of?
- Missed menstrual period
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Positive pregnancy test which may become lighter with subsequent test
- HCG hormones that don't match up with the estimated gestation of pregnancy
- Sudden sharp pain in abdomen (fallopian tube bursting)
- Referred pain to shoulders and back, due to internal bleeding
- Dizziness, breathlessness
- Loss of consciousness
- Hard, painful abdomen
- In late cases, cardiac arrest
- Any woman with these symptoms of childbearing age (10 -50 or so). Never assume.
At this point in time, there is no way to transfer an ectopic embryo to the uterus and have the embryo survive. This is difficult for grieving parents because their embryo is growing normally, albeit in the wrong place. This can cause depression and guilt. It's important to get help if these feelings don't go away.
[Photo by Ian Waldie/Getyy]