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This chapter discusses common obstetric-related conditions in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy: ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion, septic abortion, gestational trophoblastic disease, and nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy is the most important consideration until it can be either confirmed or excluded with conviction.


The differential diagnosis for women of childbearing potential who present with abdominal or pelvic symptoms or abnormal vaginal bleeding is broad and provided in Table 98-1. Consider ectopic pregnancy in women of childbearing age who report abdominal or pelvic pain or discomfort, vaginal spotting or a cycle of amenorrhea, or unexplained signs or symptoms of hypovolemia.

TABLE 98-1Differential Diagnosis of Ectopic Pregnancy


The diagnosis of pregnancy is central to the diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy. Pregnancy tests currently in use rely on the detection of the β subunit of human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG) in the urine or serum. hCG is a hormone produced by the trophoblast. Intact hCG consists of the α and β subunits. Tests based on detection of the intact molecule or the α subunit can cross-react on immunologic assays with hormones found in the nonpregnant individual and are thus less specific than tests for the β-hCG subunit.

hCG preparations are currently standardized in relation to the Third International Reference Preparation. Other standard preparations are not equivalent. A preparation often referred to in earlier literature is the Second International Standard. The Third International Reference Preparation is roughly equal to 1.7 times the Second International Standard. To avoid confusion when interpreting the literature, pay attention to the standard used. In this chapter, hCG and β-hCG concentrations refer to the Third International Reference Preparation unless otherwise noted.

Very early in either an intrauterine pregnancy (IUP) or an ectopic pregnancy, detectable amounts of β-hCG are released into the serum and filtered into the urine. The concentration of β-hCG is fairly closely correlated in the urine and serum, with urinary concentration also depending on urine specific gravity. Qualitative urine and serum tests for pregnancy usually use the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay methodology. In the laboratory setting, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay tests can detect β-hCG at concentrations <1 mIU/mL.

Qualitative tests in clinical use are typically reported as “positive” when the β-hCG concentration is ≥20 mIU/mL in urine and ≥10 mIU/mL in serum. A positive qualitative test therefore implies that β-hCG is present ...

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