A blood test is being developed by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine that could detect an ectopic pregnancy in the early stages.
This blood test could potentially save the fertility of thousands of women by detecting the condition as soon as three weeks after conception.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fetus implants outside of the womb, most commonly (95 percent of the time) in the fallopian tubes. As the fetus begins to grow, if the condition has not been diagnosed, it can become life-threatening for the mother and could harm her reproductive organs if surgery to remove the fetus is not performed immediately.
One out of every 60 pregnancies is ectopic. According to the American Pregnancy Association there are 64,000 pregnancy losses a year through ectopic pregnancy.
Women currently have to undergo a series of blood tests and ultrasound to detect an ectopic pregnancy, which can take a number of days or even weeks.
An ectopic pregnancy can develop just like any other pregnancy with most problems occurring around six to eight weeks. The symptoms range from severe and sharp pain in the abdomen, bleeding, gastrointestinal symptoms, and dizziness.
Once a woman has been diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy her doctor’s principal focus will be on preserving her fertility, particularly if the fallopian tube ruptures and has to be removed.
Dr. Mary Rausch, who specializes in ectopic pregnancies and is helping the University of Pennsylvania Medical School develop the test, spoke at the recent American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual conference in Denver, Co.
“Potentially this could be a test that somebody in early pregnancy could use to detect ectopic pregnancy,” Rausch explained.
“If they are definitely diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy then they could be immediately treated. Most of the time these days people get to hospital pretty quickly and have emergency surgery, but it is a threat,” continued Rausch.
During the research Rausch and the team took blood from 100 women who had previously experienced an ectopic pregnancy. They then compared these results with samples from 100 women who had previous healthy pregnancies. The test looked for markers in the blood that are normally present in the women who had ectopic pregnancies. They were able to successfully diagnose 42 percent of ectopic pregnancies.
After an ectopic pregnancy a woman has a 50 percent chance of having a subsequent pregnancy as well as a 15 percent chance of having a future ectopic pregnancy.
The test could be available in as little as two years.