Suspected ectopic pregnancy

Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Feb;107(2 Pt 1):399-413. doi: 10.1097/


Women who present with pain and bleeding in the first trimester are at risk for ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition. Conditions that predispose a woman to ectopic pregnancy are damaged fallopian tubes from prior tubal surgery or previous pelvic infection, smoking, and conception using assisted reproduction. Many women without risk factors can develop an ectopic pregnancy. A diagnostic algorithm that includes the use of transvaginal ultrasonography, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) concentrations, and, sometimes, uterine curettage can definitively diagnose women at risk in a timely manner. The absence of an intrauterine pregnancy above an established cut point of hCG is consistent with an abnormal pregnancy but does not distinguish a miscarriage from an ectopic pregnancy. When the initial hCG value is low, serial hCG values can be used to determine whether a gestation is potentially viable or spontaneously resolving. The minimal rise in hCG for a viable pregnancy is 53% in 2 days. The minimal decline of a spontaneous abortion is 21-35% in 2 days, depending on the initial level. A rise or fall in serial hCG values that is slower than this is suggestive of an ectopic pregnancy. Women diagnosed with an unruptured ectopic pregnancy are potential candidates for medical management with methotrexate. Intramuscular injection with methotrexate can be used to safely treat an ectopic pregnancy with success rates, tubal patency rates, and future fertility that are similar to those obtained with conservative surgery. Success rates using methotrexate are inversely rated to baseline hCG values and are higher using "multidose" compared with "single-dose" regimens. Surgical treatment may be conservative or definitive and should be attempted in most cases via laparoscopy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortifacient Agents, Nonsteroidal / therapeutic use
  • Algorithms
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Ectopic* / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy, Ectopic* / therapy
  • Risk Factors


  • Abortifacient Agents, Nonsteroidal
  • Methotrexate