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Preventing The Misdiagnosis Of Ectopic Pregnancy

An ultrasound scan of a normal pregnancy at six-and-a-half weeks. (Courtesy Dr P. Doubilet)

An ultrasound scan of a normal pregnancy at six-and-a-half weeks. (Courtesy Dr P. Doubilet)

A new paper in the New England Journal of Medicine addresses a major medical error: when doctors diagnose a pregnancy as ectopic, meaning it is outside the womb, when in reality the pregnancy is developing normally, inside the womb. The paper also reveals that this mistake is not nearly as rare as previously believed.

Ectopic pregnancies can put the life of the mother in danger, so doctors tend to administer the cancer drug methotrexate immediately to end the pregnancy. Needless to say, this is devastating for a well embryo.

Now, a panel of leading international experts is calling for a change in medical practice to prevent such misdiagnosis.


Carey Goldberg, co-host of WBUR’s CommonHealth blog

Dr Peter Doubilet, Senior Vice-Chair of Radiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. He was the lead author of the New England Journal of Medicine article.

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