Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a blastocyst implants outside the womb. In very few cases, it may implant in the cervix, ovaries or abdomen, however, the vast majority of ectopic pregnancies (about 98 percent) are in the fallopian tubes. This condition, often referred to as a "tubal pregnancy," is a life-threatening emergency that requires prompt treatment. For women who may be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, it is critical that early symptoms be identified. If the condition is immediately addressed by medical professionals, damage to reproductive system can be minimized, and the chances of life-threatening complications are reduced. Early symptoms usually become noticeable about three weeks after conception (or seven weeks from the last menstrual period).
'Normal' Pregnancy Signs
Most ectopic pregnancies seem like normal pregnancies during the first several days or weeks after conception. Because the hormonal response to pregnancy is likely to be the same, women who with tubal pregnancies often show classic signs of pregnancy: breast tenderness, nausea, exhaustion and amenorrhea—missed period. A tubal pregnancy may remain for up to six weeks following conception, before the symptoms become noticeably different from "normal" indicators of pregnancy. If a woman seems to be experiencing a healthy pregnancy, she may not know that the blastocyst is out of place until late symptoms arise.
Cramp-like pain and discomfort have many potential causes during pregnancy, some of them benign. Mild to moderate abdominal pain is a normal part of early pregnancy while the uterus adjusts to its new resident, and severe cramping may indicate the spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) of an intrauterine pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy usually is accompanied by moderate to severe cramping, which may be focused on one side, according to the Mayo Clinic. The side where the pain concentrates is not always the same side that is hosting the tubal pregnancy. One-sided pain may also be caused by an ovarian cyst or other benign source.
Light vaginal bleeding often occurs during early pregnancy as a result of implantation, and it sometimes occurs with no known cause. However, bleeding at any point in pregnancy should be promptly reported to a physician or midwife, since it can indicate a severe complication—up to and including ectopic pregnancy. In general, ectopic pregnancy results in light, not heavy, vaginal bleeding. It is usually red, but it can also be dark brown or pinkish in color. This results from a rapid decline in progesterone levels as the body begins to recognize that the pregnancy is not viable.
Painful urination can be an early symptom of ectopic pregnancy, but it can also indicate a more mild problem, such as irritation of the urethra or a urinary tract infection. If any other symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are present, it is especially critical to seek immediate treatment. Women who show no other signs of ectopic pregnancy are probably suffering from a urinary tract infection, not a pregnancy complication.
Pain During Bowel Movements
Like many of the other potential symptoms of ectopic pregnancy, painful bowel movements can have many causes. Hemorrhoids, infection and spicy foods may be responsible for pain during bowel movements, but the pain can also be caused by ectopic pregnancy. Pain experienced during bowel movements may extend throughout the abdomen, but focus primarily on the lower pelvic region. It may resemble pain caused by menstrual cramps, diarrhea or gas. Any woman experiencing this or any other unusual symptoms should consult a professional for diagnosis, peace of mind and, potentially, life-saving treatment measures.