Diagnosis and treatment of ectopic pregnancy

St Michael's Hospital, Bristol, UK.
The Practitioner 03/2013; 257(1759):15-7, 2.
Source: PubMed


The most common site of localisation of an ectopic pregnancy is the fallopian tube. Rarely an ectopic pregnancy can be found in the ovary, a caesarean section scar, the abdomen or the cervix. Risk factors are previous ectopic pregnancy, PID, endometriosis, previous pelvic surgery, the presence of a coil and infertility. However, a third of women with an ectopic pregnancy have no known risk factors. NICE recommends a low threshold for offering a pregnancy test to women of childbearing age when they attend the surgery. Symptoms and signs appear when the tube starts to tear. When the tube ruptures, the woman will quickly become unwell and haemodynamically unstable because of rapid intra-abdominal blood loss. The most common symptoms of ectopic pregnancy are pelvic or abdominal pain, amenorrhoea, missed period or abnormal period and vaginal bleeding. A positive diagnosis of a urinary tract infection or gastroenteritis does not exclude an ectopic pregnancy. Signs of suspected ectopic pregnancy include pelvic, abdominal, adnexal or cervical motion tenderness, rebound tenderness and abdominal distension. Women who are haemodynamically unstable, or in whom there is significant concern about the degree of pain or bleeding, should be referred directly to A&E, irrespective of the result of the pregnancy test. Stable patients with bleeding who have pain or a pregnancy of six weeks gestation or more or a pregnancy of uncertain gestation should be referred immediately to an early pregnancy assessment (EPA) service, or out-of-hours gynaecology service if the EPA service is not available. Diagnosis is confirmed by transvaginal ultrasound scan to identify the location of the pregnancy.

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    ABSTRACT: Background Ectopic pregnancy (EP) is the leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality during the first trimester and the incidence increases dramatically with in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer (IVF-ET). The co-existence of an EP with a viable intrauterine pregnancy (IUP) is known as heterotopic pregnancy (HP) affecting about 1% of patients during assisted conception. EP/HP can cause significant morbidity and occasional mortality and represent diagnostic and therapeutic challenges, particularly during fertility treatment. Many risk factors related to IVF-ET techniques and the cause of infertility have been documented. The combination of transvaginal ultrasound (TVS) and serum human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) is the most reliable diagnostic tool, with early diagnosis of EP/HP permitting conservative management. This review describes the risk factors, diagnostic modalities and treatment approaches of EP/HP during IVF-ET and also their impact on subsequent fertility treatment. Methods The scientific literature was searched for studies investigating EP/HP during IVF-ET. Publications in English and within the past 6 years were mostly selected. Results A history of tubal infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and specific aspects of embryo transfer technique are the most significant risk factors for later EP. Early measurement of serum hCG and performance of TVS by an expert operator as early as gestational week 5 can identify cases of possible EP. These women should be closely monitored with repeated ultrasound and hCG measurement until a diagnosis is reached. Treatment must be customised to the clinical condition and future fertility requirements of the patient. In cases of HP, the viable IUP can be preserved in the majority of cases but requires early detection of HP. No apparent negative impact of the different treatment approaches for EP/HP on subsequent IVF-ET, except for risk of recurrence. Conclusions EP/HP are tragic events in a couple’s reproductive life, and the earlier the diagnosis the better the prognosis. Due to the increase incidence following IVF-ET, there is a compelling need to develop a diagnostic biomarker/algorithm that can predict pregnancy outcome with high sensitivity and specificity before IVF-ET to prevent and/or properly manage those who are at higher risk of EP/HP.
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