The fallopian tubes are appendages of the uterus in which fertilisation occurs, meaning the union between the egg and the sperm. The function of the fallopian tube is to receive the egg that has been released from the ovary, to facilitate the sperm’s journey so that fertilisation can take place and, once fertilised, the tube allows the fertilised egg that will give rise to the future embryo to progress, assisted by the movement of the fallopian wall’s cilia, to the uterus where it will implant and grow.
Therefore, any alteration in the fallopian tubes – whether obstructed fallopian tubes due to malformations or for any other reason – can cause problems for conception to occur. According to recent studies on female fertility, fallopian tube obstruction is the cause of female infertility in about 10-25% of cases.
What are the symptoms of fallopian tube blockage?
Often, a woman finds out that she has tubal blockage symptoms when she tries to have children without success and undertakes a fertility test. Therefore, in many cases tubal blockage is completely asymptomatic or limited to pain with menstruation and so is often assessed as “normal”.
Causes of fallopian tube blockage
Any circumstance that potentially affects the fallopian tubes can damage them. Causes of tubal blockage include abdominal surgery, pelvic infection, or endometriosis.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
The most common sign of fallopian tube blockage is pelvic inflammatory disease (known as PID), which is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that has not been treated properly. Symptoms of PID include pain during menstruation or intercourse and heavy vaginal discharge that may have an unpleasant odour. There may also be symptoms of itching during urination. The most common bacteria causing PID are chlamydia and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (which causes gonorrhoea) and are transmitted by unprotected sex.
Other possible causes of fallopian tube obstruction
- Endometriosis: endometrial tissue grows outside its natural environment (which is the uterus), creating adhesions that can obstruct the tubes and make it difficult for the cilia to move.
- Uterine fibroids: these are benign tumours of the uterine wall which, if they grow near the exit of the fallopian tube, can cause complete or partial obstruction of this exit. In the case of partial obstruction, they are the cause of ectopic pregnancies.
- Abdominal surgery: whether it has been performed on the tube or in adjacent areas (due to adhesions). In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the tube may be damaged, making it impossible to function in the future.
Is pregnancy possible with a tubal blockage?
Theoretically, the fallopian tubes have to be open and healthy to function properly. And you don’t need to have two – with one functioning tube, you can have a natural pregnancy. But if both tubes are obstructed, you need help to get pregnant, and assisted reproduction is one of the most common solutions.
To see if your tubes are healthy, the first thing that is done is an ultrasound scan. Then there are several tubal patency tests to confirm the blockage. These are simple and minimally invasive procedures: hysterosalpingography and hysterosonography.
Infertility fallopian tube blockage treatments
Given that the most common situation is that the obstruction is unsolvable or that, with surgery, other complications arise, we opt to help with an assisted reproduction procedure. Usually an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment is proposed, with controlled ovarian stimulation, from which mature oocytes are obtained, then fertilised in a laboratory and subsequently transported to the uterus through a small insemination catheter.
However, treatments may vary depending on the case, so we encourage you to seek the advice of our assisted reproduction specialists if you are suffering from tubal obstruction.