Ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo improperly attaches to the tissue outside of the uterine cavity instead of moving through the fallopian tube into the womb. Ectopic pregnancies are a relatively common pregnancy complication, occurring in about one out of every 80 pregnancies. Ectopic pregnancies may be life threatening for the mother. Unfortunately, it is not possible to move an embryo to a position that will save the pregnancy. If a doctor fails to identify an ectopic pregnancy, it may be considered medical negligence.

What is Ectopic Pregnancy?

In the normal course of a menstrual cycle, an ovum or egg that is produced by the ovaries moves through tubes called fimbriae and into the fallopian tubes, then on to the womb. If the egg is fertilized by sperm during this journey, it will attach to the tissue on the inside of the womb under normal circumstances. In an ectopic pregnancy, the egg may be fertilized outside of the fimbriae or fallopian tubes and become implanted in other body tissue, where it will cause medical complications for the mother. The fertilized egg may also become caught in the fimbriae or fallopian tubes, where it can cause these delicate structures to tear or burst and cause serious injury.

Misdiagnosis of Ectopic Pregnancy

Failure to identify ectopic pregnancy may result in fatality. About nine percent of maternal fatalities are a result of ectopic pregnancies that were not identified and treated in time. Failure to diagnose ectopic pregnancies often occurs when physicians fail to adequately investigate ectopic pregnancy symptoms that are present.

Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy

Symptoms that may be indicative of ectopic pregnancy include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Pain when defecating
  • Recurring or perpetual faintness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pain when breathing

Misdiagnosis of Symptoms

Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy may begin when the pregnancy is between four and seven weeks. In many cases, the mother is unaware of the pregnancy when symptoms begin. Symptoms are often initially attributed to a missed period. Symptoms may also be attributed to other abdominal disorders. In some cases, patients do not show symptoms, which makes diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy more difficult.

Risk Factors for Ectopic Pregnancies

Understanding common risk factors for ectopic pregnancy may increase the likelihood of a correct diagnosis of symptoms. Previous ectopic pregnancies, surgeries, or other trauma that may have caused scarring or damage to the fallopian tubes or fimbriae greatly increases the likelihood of developing an ectopic pregnancy. Pelvic inflammatory disease is a common cause of this damage. The use of assisted contraception treatments and intrauterine contraceptive devices may also increase the chances of ectopic pregnancy. Pregnancies in women over the age of 35 and lifestyle factors such as smoking may increase ectopic pregnancy risks.

Diagnosing Ectopic Pregnancy

Physicians generally order a urine test, a blood test that will reveal the presence of pregnancy hormones, and an ultrasound to identify ectopic pregnancies. While the blood and urine tests may allow physicians to confirm pregnancy, it may be difficult to identify ectopic pregnancy if the pregnancy is still in early stages. Identifying a heartbeat and visually identifying a fetus may be difficult, even if the embryo has attached properly. In some cases, pregnancies are incorrectly identified as ectopic when physicians are unable to locate the fetus or heartbeat at early stages.

Ectopic Pregnancy Misdiagnosis Liability

If a physician fails to order testing that would have identified an ectopic pregnancy and the patient suffers injury as a result, it may be considered medical negligence. The physician is responsible for collecting a complete medical history and putting adequate effort into evaluating symptoms so that ectopic pregnancies can be treated before injury or fatality occur. However, if a patient fails to show symptoms and no risk factors are present, it may be difficult to prove that a breach of duty occurred. It is important to contact an attorney for advice and assistance following a failure to identify an ectopic pregnancy, as there is usually a time limit in which the claim must be filed and proving claims may become complicated.




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“Ectopic Pregnancy and Miscarriage: Diagnosis and Initial Management in Early Pregnancy of Ectopic Pregnancy and Miscarriage.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 23 Oct 2014. <>

Tenore, Josie. “Ectopic Pregnancy.” American Family Physician. American Family Physician, n.d. Web. 23 Oct 2014. <>