Can a doctor misdiagnose an ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic pregnancies are rare, but they do require treatment. If you’ve experienced, or are worried about, an ectopic pregnancy, it can be an anxious time. You will want to be confident that you’ve received the correct and best medical treatment.

What is an ectopic pregnancy?

A normal pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg travels through the fallopian tube and develops in the uterus.

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilised egg starts to grow outside the uterus. This is normally in the fallopian tube. However, it can also be in the:
• ovary
• abdomen
• cervix
• a Caesarean section scar

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilised egg starts to grow outside the uterus.

What causes an ectopic pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy can have different causes; it’s not always possible to know why a pregnancy developed in this way. The more common contributing factors may include:

  • being over the age of 30
  • smoking
  • previously having had an ectopic pregnancy
  • previously having undergone abdominal surgery
  • having an STD (now or in the past), pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis
  • becoming pregnant after being sterilised

What are the treatments for an ectopic pregnancy?

It is not possible to save the baby when treating an ectopic pregnancy; the egg will not develop into a baby in the normal way. The pregnancy will need to be terminated.

There are different ways to do this. What is right for you will depend on a few factors.

The least invasive treatment is known as expectant management. This means you will be closely monitored to see if the issue resolves on its own, with the pregnancy coming to a natural end.

Medication is another option. The medication will stop the egg from growing and dissolve existing cells. It’s important to have a correct diagnosis before beginning this treatment.

The most invasive option is surgery. Keyhole surgery can normally be done under general anaesthetic to remove the egg and affected fallopian tube. Depending on your circumstances, the fallopian tube may or may not have to be removed.

What are the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy?

Ectopic pregnancy symptoms may not always be apparent. Sometimes they may only be identified during a pregnancy scan. Some symptoms may resemble those of a miscarriage or stomach upset.

Symptoms may occur from as early as the fourth week up to 12 weeks (or even later). These may include:

  • unusual vaginal bleeding
  • missed periods
  • tummy pain and tenderness
  • bowel or bladder problems
  • fainting or feeling dizzy
  • pain at the tip of the shoulder
  • feeling sick or looking pale
Image of a lady appearing in pain or distressed laying on bed

More severe symptoms could signal that the fallopian tube has ruptured. This is a serious development. You will need surgery as soon as possible.

Diagnosing an ectopic pregnancy

If an ectopic pregnancy is not diagnosed and treated appropriately, it can cause serious issues, including internal bleeding. Emergency treatment may be required.

If a medical professional suspects an ectopic pregnancy, there are ways of confirming the diagnosis, which include:

  • a pregnancy test
  • blood tests
  • an ultrasound scan
  • keyhole surgery

Can a doctor misdiagnose an ectopic pregnancy?

It is possible to misdiagnose an ectopic pregnancy, especially as some of the milder symptoms can be mistaken for a stomach upset or miscarriage. However, the more severe symptoms can also be misdiagnosed.

A medical professional treating a patient should have in mind the common factors known to contribute to an ectopic pregnancy (e.g. age, smoking) as well as any symptoms.

A failure to properly diagnose an ectopic pregnancy or to react quickly enough can amount to medical negligence. However, this will depend on the circumstances presented at the time.

Sometimes the actual treatment of an ectopic pregnancy can be negligent, for example if the wrong fallopian tube is removed.

The misdiagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy can lead to unnecessary pain and complications, such as the need for emergency surgery.

side view image of a pregnant woman having an ultrasound scan.

Getting professional assistance with a misdiagnosed ectopic pregnancy

If you believe you have suffered a misdiagnosed ectopic pregnancy, you may be able to make medical negligence claim.

The first step is always to seek advice from a medical professional. Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, you may want to consider making a claim for compensation.

A medical negligence solicitor can help you with making a compensation claim. In addition to being able to confirm whether negligence occurred, they will be in a position to help you gather the necessary evidence for a claim, and understand how much to claim.

At Devonshires Claims, our team of experienced medical negligence solicitors have the expertise and knowledge to help you with pregnancy and gynaecological claims. We understand this is a sensitive time, and will support you through all the necessary steps.

In addition to helping you put together a robust claim for medical negligence, we can also represent you through the legal process on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.

For more information, or to start your free case evaluation, contact Devonshires Claims today. Call 0333 016 5180, email, or use our online contact form.

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