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Your guide to ectopic pregnancy misdiagnosis

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy can have serious consequences and impact upon the woman’s future fertility if it is not diagnosed and treated promptly.

When symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are presented... a doctor can be negligent in number of ways, such as:

If a doctor does diagnose an ectopic pregnancy:

  • Treatment can still be delayed
  • After a routine scan fails to find the foetus in the womb, no further tests are carried out.

An ectopic pregnancy must be promptly diagnosed to prevent serious complications, which could affect longer term health, fertility or even cause a fatal injury.

A doctor, specialist or other clinicians involved in your diagnosis owe you ‘a duty of care’ to interpret the symptoms correctly and ensure that you get the right treatment.

If at any stage a mistake is made in diagnosis, the wrong course of treatment administered or the standard of  care fell below what is appropriate , then you may have a  medical negligence case.

The highest degree of sensitivity and understanding 

If a patient feels that they have been let down by a health professional, it can be difficult for them to place their trust in a legal professional.  We at Your Legal Friend recognise that Clinical negligence cases can be  emotional and therefore need a degree of  sensitivity and understanding from  specialist lawyers throughout the  legal process.

Reaching a decision to make a civil claim for clinical negligence is never easy  our team of both male and female lawyers can offer  understanding and expert guidance to help you succeed in making your case.

Your Legal Friend has many years of experience in  resolving  clinical negligence cases.  Our specialist knowledge of both legal and medical issues together with a sensitive awareness of how everyone involved is affected means we can help you:

  • Find out  what went  wrong with a diagnosis, treatment or procedure.
  • Obtain financial  compensation for the injury or harm caused.

Did you know...

  • Between  1-2 per cent of pregnancies are ectopic.     ("Diagnosing ectopic pregnancy” Research Survey, 2014).  
  • Ectopic pregnancy can occur in any sexually active woman of reproductive age.
  • Rates of ectopic pregnancy are higher in women who:

- are older

- have previously had multiple pregnancies

- are non-white                         (UBM)                                                                               

  • A woman who has suffered from one ectopic pregnancy increases the possibility of suffering from a further ectopic pregnancy.
  • 65 per cent of women will become pregnant within 18 months following an ectopic pregnancy.
  • 85 per cent will become pregnant after two years following an ectopic pregnancy.

What is an “ectopic” pregnancy?

The term ectopic means “misplaced” and refers to a pregnancy that occurs outside of the womb.

The most common place for an ectopic pregnancy to occur outside of the womb is within the fallopian tubes (although it can occur elsewhere in the body), which means the baby cannot be saved.

Why does ectopic pregnancy happen?

It is perfectly possible for a women to have an ectopic pregnancy despite no known causes being identified.

However, the potential for an ectopic pregnancy are thought to be increased by a number of known risk factors, as follows:

  • Fallopian tubes - damaged, blocked, scarred or narrow  

– caused by infection, previous surgery or previous ectopic pregnancy                                                                                

As a result, the fertilised egg has slowed down and implanted itself before reaching the womb.

  • Abdominal surgery - Caesarean section or removal of appendix
  • Method of contraception - using a coil or the mini pill
  • Type of infertility treatment - such as IVF
  • Aged over 35
  • Smoking

If you recognise yourself as having any of the above risk factors...

Tests to detect pregnancy as early as 7-8 days after fertilisation should have been carried out by your doctor.  Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are most likely to show between the fifth and tenth weeks of pregnancy and a doctor should be reasonably expected to have made a diagnosis during this time frame.

What are the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy?

Symptoms can develop at any time between week 4 and 10 of pregnancy.

A key difficulty in identifying an ectopic pregnancy is where there are no obvious signs or symptoms and the woman may not even be aware that she is pregnant.

A common mistake is that the symptoms are interpreted as just a late period.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Pain felt low in the stomach or on one side
  • Pain felt in the tips of the shoulders
  • Diarrhoea, vomiting (being sick) or constipation
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Vaginal bleeding, which often appears to be different from a normal period

How is ectopic pregnancy diagnosed?

A doctor should be aware that it can be difficult to diagnose ectopic pregnancy. Therefore, it should be reasonable and appropriate for the following action to have been carried out:

  • Medical history - questions asked about your symptoms, other pregnancies, etc

Tests which should have been arranged to have taken place in a hospital:

  • Pregnancy test
  • Ultrasound scan or scans of the womb - an ectopic pregnancy may only be diagnosed when a scan fails to locate the presence of the foetus in the womb.
  • Blood tests – which show changes in the pregnancy hormones and may be repeated over several days.
  • Laparoscopy - an examination carried out under general anaesthetic to visually determine ectopic pregnancy.

If a doctors fails to correctly diagnose or arrange further tests...

The fertilised egg will continue to grow outside of the womb. Complications can follow and eventually lead to the rupture of the fallopian tube resulting in heavy, and potentially fatal, internal bleeding.

What happens if an ectopic pregnancy is confirmed?

While there is no real alternative for an ectopic pregnancy other than termination of the pregnancy, a doctor should discuss with you the following possible options:

  • “Watchful waiting” - no active treatment but regular checks to ensure the ectopic pregnancy terminates naturally.
  • Medical treatment – injecting a drug called methotrexate to stop the cells growing in the fallopian tube.
  • Surgery  -  to remove the affected tube, with the ectopic pregnancy inside, or

               -  remove the ectopic pregnancy from the tube and leave the tube behind.

Claiming for clinical negligence...

You may have  grounds for a claiming clinical negligence if you experienced any of the following while undergoing assessment, diagnosis, treatment or care during your ectopic pregnancy:

  • Concerns dismissed over suspected pregnancy.
  • Failure to correctly diagnose symptoms of ectopic pregnancy.
  • Incorrectly diagnosing for another cause of symptoms.
  • Delay in treatment – potentially affecting future fertility.
  • Failure to prescribe the drug methotrexate early enough to prevent the egg from developing in the fallopian tube.
  • Delay and failure in carrying out adequate blood tests, including pregnancy hormone tests and scans.
  • Failure in reviewing the medical history of the mother and family.
  • Failing to treat problems, such as retained fluid and infection, post-surgery.
  • Surgical error - wrong fallopian tube is removed or both fallopian tubes are removed.
  • Failure to remove pregnancy or is incomplete.
  • Failure to adequately monitor recovery,  post treatment.

How Your Legal Friend can help you...

As experienced clinical negligence specialists, we know that you will want to find out why your GP or doctor failed you or a family member in their duty to provide the expected standard of care and treatment in the diagnosis and treatment of an ectopic pregnancy.

We are committed to ensuring victims of clinical negligence obtain the answers and receive the compensation  they deserve, which could prevent others from suffering in a similar way.