Fallopian tubes are female reproductive organs that connect the ovaries and the uterus. Every month during ovulation, which occurs roughly in the middle of a menstrual cycle, the fallopian tubes carry an egg from an ovary to the uterus. Conception also happens in the fallopian tube. If an egg is fertilized by sperm, it moves through the tube to the uterus for implantation.
If a fallopian tube is blocked, the passage for sperm to get to the eggs, as well as the path back to the uterus for the fertilized egg, is blocked. Common reasons for blocked fallopian tubes include scar tissue, infection, and pelvic adhesions.
Symptoms of blocked fallopian tubes
Blocked fallopian tubes don’t often cause symptoms. Many women don’t know they have blocked tubes until they try to get pregnant and have trouble.
In some cases, blocked fallopian tubes can lead to mild, regular pain on one side of the abdomen. This usually happens in a type of blockage called a hydrosalpinx. This is when a fluid fills and enlarges a blocked fallopian tube.
Conditions that can lead to a blocked fallopian tube can cause their own symptoms. For example, endometriosis often causes very painful and heavy periods and pelvic pain, and can increase your risk for blocked fallopian tubes.
Effect on fertility
Blocked fallopian tubes are a common cause of infertility. Sperm and egg meet in the fallopian tube for fertilization. A blocked tube can prevent them from joining.
If both tubes are fully blocked, pregnancy without treatment will be impossible. If the fallopian tubes are partially blocked, you can potentially get pregnant, but the risk of ectopic pregnancy increases. This is because it’s harder for a fertilized egg to move through a blockage to the uterus. In these cases, your doctor might recommend in vitro fertilization (IVF), depending on whether treatment is possible.
If only one fallopian tube is blocked, the blockage most likely won’t affect fertility because an egg can still travel through the unaffected fallopian tube. Fertility drugs can help increase your chance of ovulating on the open side.
Causes of blocked fallopian tubes
Fallopian tubes are usually blocked by scar tissue or pelvic adhesions. These can be caused by many factors, including:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease. This disease can cause scarring or hydrosalpinx.
- Endometriosis. Endometrial tissue can build up in the fallopian tubes and cause a blockage, or endometrial tissue on the outside of other organs can cause adhesions that block the fallopian tubes.
- Certain sexually transmitted infections. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause scarring and lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Past ectopic pregnancy. This can scar the fallopian tubes.
- Fibroids. These growths can block the fallopian tube, particularly where they attach to the uterus.
- Past abdominal surgery. Past surgery, especially on the fallopian tubes themselves, can lead to pelvic adhesions that block the tubes.
You can’t prevent many causes of blocked fallopian tubes, but you can decrease your risk of sexual transmitted infections by practicing safe sex.
Diagnosing a blocked fallopian tube
Hysterosalpingography (HSG) is a type of X-ray used to examine the inside of fallopian tubes to help diagnose blockages. During HSG, your doctor introduces a dye into your uterus and fallopian tubes. The dye helps your doctor see more of the inner fallopian tubes on the X-ray. An HSG can usually be done in your doctor’s office and should take place within the first half of your menstrual cycle. Side effects are rare, but false positive results are possible.
If the HSG doesn’t help your doctor make a definitive diagnosis, they can use laparoscopy for further evaluation. If the doctor finds a blockage during the procedure, they might remove it, if possible.
Treating blocked fallopian tubes
If your fallopian tubes are blocked by small amounts of scar tissue or adhesions, your doctor can use laparoscopic surgery to remove the blockage and open the tubes. If your fallopian tubes are blocked by large amounts of scar tissue or adhesions, treatment to remove the blockages may not be possible.
Surgery to repair tubes damaged by ectopic pregnancy or infection may be an option. If a blockage is caused because part of the fallopian tube is damaged, a surgeon can remove the damaged part and connect the two healthy parts.
The possibility of pregnancy
It’s possible to get pregnant following treatment for blocked fallopian tubes, but your chances for pregnancy will depend on the treatment method and severity of the block. A successful pregnancy is more likely when the blockage is near the uterus. Success rates are lower if the blockage is at the end of the fallopian tube near the ovary.
The chance of getting pregnant after surgery for tubes damaged by an infection or ectopic pregnancy is small. It depends on how much of the tube must be removed and what part is removed.
Talk to your doctor before treatment to understand your chances for a successful pregnancy.
Complications of blocked fallopian tubes
The most common complication of blocked fallopian tubes and treatment is ectopic pregnancy. If a fallopian tube is partially blocked, an egg may be able to be fertilized, but may get stuck in the tube. This results in an ectopic pregnancy, which is a medical emergency.
Surgery that removes part of the fallopian tube also increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy. Because of these risks, doctors often recommend IVF instead of surgery for women with blocked fallopian tubes who are otherwise healthy.
Outlook for this condition
Blocked fallopian tubes can cause infertility, but it’s still possible to have a child. In many cases, laparoscopic surgery can remove the blockage and improve fertility. If surgery isn’t possible, IVF can help you conceive if you’re otherwise healthy.
You’ll find additional information about infertility at these resources: