Ectopic Pregnancies

Dive Deeper
The embryo grew within the left fallopian tube. This is an ectopic pregnancy (marked by red arrows), and the tube has ruptured and started bleeding. This embryo needs to be surgically removed so that doctors can stop the bleeding. The blue arrows point to the uterus, where the unborn child should have grown. The right fallopian tube is normal. (Image Credit: Mikael Häggström, 2/16/14, Public Domain)

In an ectopic pregnancy, the embryo improperly implants and grows inside the mother’s fallopian tube. Between 1% and 2% of all pregnancies are ectopic in the United States.1 If the embryo grows too large inside the mother’s fallopian tube, the tube will rupture and bleed. Ectopic pregnancies are a leading cause of pregnancy-related death because of the subsequent internal hemorrhage. The embryo cannot survive in the fallopian tube, and poses significant risk to the mother’s life, so these embryos are surgically removed.2

Sometimes, the embryo is still alive after it has been removed. The first direct observations of fetal movements in response to a light touch came from embryos removed from ectopic pregnancies. Researchers stroked different body parts with a thin paintbrush to discover how the embryos moved in response.3 As ultrasound technology improved, it confirmed the movement patterns seen in the ectopic embryos.4