Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Four Years Later PSA

This is a post that I do every year, because it is something that is, for obvious reasons, very important to me to educate and inform people about. Since posting about my experience with an ectopic pregnancy and talking about it, I have had three women who told me that knowing the symptoms was what got them to the hospital in time. Please read it. Please tell other women about it.

First and foremost, I'm glad I'm not dead.

Seriously. I'm really, really glad I'm not dead. That would have sucked. And, thanks to the fact that I recognized warning symptoms and had some emergency surgery four years ago today, I get to be alive to appreciate being alive. I'm a big fan.

So in honor of my not-dying anniversary, I'm doing a PSA about ectopic pregnancy. Even if you never plan on having children, these are important symptoms to know because you could very well save the life of someone you love. Or your own. (Unless you are a guy, in which case your risk of ectopic pregnancy = non-existent. Still, you like women, right?)

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy in which a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus. This is a bad thing. Usually the egg implants in the fallopian tube; occasionally it implants other places. 2% of all pregnancies are ectopic. That's 1 in 50. Certain factors increase your risks--tubal scarring, abdominal surgery, endometriosis, fertility treatments, IUDs--but it can happen to anyone. I had no real risk factors.

An even scarier statistic than the one-in-fifty? Ectopic pregnancies are the number one cause of pregnancy-related death. Part of the problem is that many women with ectopic pregnancies don't even know they're pregnant. Because your body doesn't produce as many hormones, you might continue having periods like normal, ignore the sudden pain, go to bed because you're feeling tired and dizzy, and never wake up.

I know that sounds terrible and scary. It is. It happens. So even if you don't think you're pregnant, or if you think you are just having a standard miscarriage (which was what I thought), always, ALWAYS call the doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Sharp pain on one side of your lower abdomen. When you press down on it, it will be a stabbing pain that you will feel reflected in the other side, but one side will be more tender. Once your tube actually bursts the pain will lessen considerably--DO NOT IGNORE THAT. All it means is that you are now bleeding internally.
  • Feeling dizzy and lightheaded when you aren't lying down. This would be because of the internal bleeding. Also, difficulty and discomfort breathing.
  • And finally, the key symptom: when you lie down, you have a sharp, stabbing pain in your shoulder. This is called referred pain, and is caused by the blood filling up your abdomen and pushing on your lungs. (This is also a symptom of a burst appendix and often happens after abdominal surgery, in case you were interested.) If you EVER have abdominal pain that is reflected in your shoulder when you lie down, go to the hospital immediately. And have someone else drive you.
Like I said, you may not think you are pregnant, but if there is any chance whatsoever you could be and you have these symptoms, have someone drive you to the hospital immediately or call 911. If I had ignored my symptoms and let my husband go to work that day, I probably would have fallen asleep on the couch and never woken up again. I was in surgery within two or three hours of the pain starting, and at that point I had lost so much blood I nearly needed a transfusion.

But, because I am obsessive and had researched every pregnancy-related topic under the sun, I knew something was wrong. And I'm not dead. And that's a good thing.

Here's hoping you never have to recognize the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy. But now you can, and that's the important thing.

16 comments:

Kimberly said...

Wow. I didn't even know this was possible. Thank you so much for sharing. It means a lot that you are willing to be so open about a scary topic. People like you change the world. Thank you. :)

Rebecca said...

Oh my goodness, I'm so glsd your OK! I didn't know about ectopic pregnancy but thank you for informing me and others who are unaware. ♥

Samaire Provost said...

My god, thank you for the warning.

Ivis said...

This past August, Kiersten's past posts saved me. I had the stabbing pain on one side, but I had gotten my period normally, and on time, 12 days before. If I hadn't read this post last year, I might have waited longer to go to the hospital thinking, "I can't be pregnant." It was only 12 hours from the onset of pain until my surgery(thankfully laparoscopic) and I still lost the fallopian tube. Imagine if I ignored it. Thanks again, Kiersten.

Karen Greenberg said...

I shared your post on my Facebook page. I think it's important for ALL women to be aware of potential health problems before they happen. Thank you for sharing!

Makayla Anderson said...

Wow, I'm only 14 but I feel like that is information that every woman of the child-bearing age needs to know. I knew that could happen but I didn't realize it was so frequent and often ignored! I always assumed the number one cause of pregnancy related death was excessive bleeding during delivery.

Clare said...

Firstly, thank you sharing your story and experience. It's a very personal thing, so it's got to be hard to mention it on you blog.

I'm glad you noticed the symptoms, got to hospital, and are still here to tell other women about it.

I'll be sure to spread the word.

Julie DeGuia said...

What a story and yes, it is always nice to be alive! This is a great PSA... I knew about this possibility but not the symptoms. Explaining the symptoms seems like something each womans' OB could do at the annual exam. But I'm sure there are a lot of things to warn woman about. Good for you for being part of the warning system!

LauraN said...

My cousin nearly died with an ectopic pregnancy, so I was warned, but never by my doctor. It is information that should be more widely published. Its not something people expect, and it seems so heart-wrenchingly wrong. I shall remember to discuss it with my daughters and daughters in law.

Hillary Reyna said...

I am so glad you are alive. Not only because you have written amazing books but because you're an amazing person. And thanks for letting us know about this. I'm still too young to have kids (or so I think) but we never know who might have this while pregnant. And now I do and I can let people know. Thank you! :]

Anonymous said...

Your story reminds me of one I read a little while back ( http://drawingsaudade.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-long-winded-story-to-re-start-this.html?m=1). Thank you for sharing, and may God bless you for being able to face the hurt in order to warn others.

Kate said...

Thank you for sharing this. This is definitely knowledge worth knowing. And I'm very thankful you take the responsibility in informing those you can. Thank you! I am most certain you'll help save a life because of this.

Kell said...

Thank you. I knew barely even a fraction of that information, but now it is stored in my brain for future reference. We're desperately trying for #2 and had a miscarriage at the start of this month, but it could so easily have been something like this. Thank you again.

Denise Jaden said...

I'm glad to not be dead too! I had an ectopic pregnancy several years ago, as well as several miscarriages, and when I talk to other women about it, I'm often surprised at how little they know. I guess because I know the details all too well, I'm always shocked anew that this isn't one of the things doctors discuss with patients in the early stages of pregnancy. If I hadn't been an ardent follower of What to Expect When You're Expecting (the book, not the movie - LOL)then there's a good chance I wouldn't be here today to write this. It is an important topic. Thanks for bringing it up and for your honesty, Kiersten!

Laura W. said...

Dear God. That's terrifying. Thank you for your PSA. I will tweet and facebook and otherwise share the heck out of this one.

I'm only 20, but if I ever become pregnant I'll probably be like you -- obsessively checking everything that could go wrong ever. Especially with my odd medical history.

Jessica said...

Thank you for this post. I had legitimately never even heard of this condition until now, and that scares me--especially with those kinds of statistics and such seemingly-simple symptoms. I am definitely logging this information away just in case!

I'm also glad you didn't die. I love reading your blog way too much to be able to appreciate life if your blog didn't exist. :)

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