Scientists from Pennsylvania University have developed a technique for early screening test for ectopic pregnancy, a condition where the embryo grows in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus leads to complication even death.

The screening test is being developed, using four biological markers in the blood. The test provides three results: confirmed ectopic pregnancy, confirmed intrauterine or a normal pregnancy, and no confirmed result.

Diagnosis for ectopic pregnancy often proves difficult as some cases take weeks for verification. Even an ultrasound sometimes fails to identify the condition because of the small growth during early pregnancy. Thus, it is often impossible for the doctor to take any action as this has the risk of ending a healthy pregnancy as well.

During a trial of 200 women (100 each of ectopic and normal pregnancy) in their first trimester, the test managed to give a confirmed result in 42 per cent of cases. Among these cases, there was 99 per cent accuracy in differentiating between the ectopic and a normal pregnancy.

Pennsylvania University professor Dr Mary Rausch while presenting a paper at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Denver said the test could save many women from living under uncertainty and save lives.

During current treatment process if the fallopian tube ruptures a woman can bleed profusely in to her abdomen and if not treated immediately this can lead to death. So, spotting an ectopic pregnancy early has the advantage of ending the pregnancy using drugs, rather than by surgery. Also, surgery increases the chance of losing the tube and consequently leads to infertility, she elaborated.

She further said that women suspected of having an ectopic pregnancy (that an ultrasound machine does not detect) are monitored every other day for the pregnancy hormone HCG. If hormone levels increase steadily that indicates a normal pregnancy, while if they remain low that indicates an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage.

However, HCG levels are only an indicator of pregnancy and not a diagnosis, she added. The new test could also be used if ultrasound machine was unavailable. Ectopic pregnancy symptoms, which vary from person to person but can, include pain on either side of the abdomen or in the pelvis start showing in the sixth or seventh week. But then, these symptoms are also seen in case of normal pregnancies.

The new test looks for levels of four proteins in the blood, three related to pregnancy and the fourth to increased blood vessel growth. Rausch hoped that the test would have a same-day test within two to five years as a larger study to validate the technique is being planned.