What is an Abdominal Pregnancy?

D. Jeffress

An abdominal pregnancy is a rare occurrence in which a fertilized egg settles in the abdomen instead of migrating down the fallopian tube and attaching to the uterus. A woman who has an abdominal pregnancy is at a very high risk of suffering a life-threatening hemorrhage and going into shock as the embryo grows. It is not physically impossible to bring an embryo to term, though a team of emergency surgeons must conduct a delicate procedure to remove it as soon as the pregnancy is discovered. In most cases, women who survive abdominal pregnancies are able to have normal pregnancies in the future.

An ultrasound can help confirm an abdominal pregnancy.
An ultrasound can help confirm an abdominal pregnancy.

A pregnancy that occurs in the abdomen, fallopian tube, ovary, or anywhere besides the normal womb is called ectopic. Women who have pelvic inflammatory disease are at the highest risk of ectopic abdominal pregnancies, since inflammation and swelling can reroute the fertilized egg to the bowels or stomach. Conceiving past the age of 40, smoking, and in vitro procedures also increase the risk of pregnancy complications. In many cases, however, it is unclear what causes an abdominal pregnancy.

A woman who is experiencing an abdominal pregnancy may experience constant pain in her abdomen during the first trimester.
A woman who is experiencing an abdominal pregnancy may experience constant pain in her abdomen during the first trimester.

Most women do not experience physical symptoms until several weeks after conception, and many are not even aware they are pregnant. Sometime during the first trimester, a woman may begin to experience constant pain in her lower back and abdomen. She might frequently feel lightheaded and experience very heavy vaginal bleeding episodes. Other signs generally consistent with normal pregnancies may also be present, including breast tenderness, morning sickness, and weight gain.

A gynecologist can diagnose an abdominal pregnancy.
A gynecologist can diagnose an abdominal pregnancy.

A gynecologist who suspects an abdominal pregnancy can conduct an ultrasound or computerized tomography scan to identify the problem. If imaging tests point towards an ectopic pregnancy, the doctor usually refers the patient to a team of specialists for more careful evaluation. The team can test blood samples for abnormally high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone released by developing embryos. A procedure called a laparoscopy involves making a small incision under the navel and inserting a tiny camera to identify the exact location of the abdominal pregnancy. Immediate surgical removal of the growing cells is necessary to prevent a rupture and hemorrhaging.

Surgeries involve cutting open the abdomen and removing the embryo as delicately as possible. If internal bleeding has already begun, the team of surgeons must attempt to compress the wound, stabilize blood pressure, and suture damaged tissue to prevent the patient from going into shock. Modern surgical techniques and pain relieving medications allow most women to survive without suffering permanent damage to their internal organs or reproductive systems.

Most women do not experience physical symptoms of an abdominal pregnancy until several weeks after conception.
Most women do not experience physical symptoms of an abdominal pregnancy until several weeks after conception.

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