Blocked Fallopian tubes are responsible for 25% to 30% of cases of female infertility. This silent condition usually isn’t discovered until you try to conceive. Since the fallopian tubes serve as the path for the egg to reach the uterus for implantation, any blockage in these tubes can prevent implantation and hence make it difficult for you to conceive.
Blocked Fallopian tubes also increase your risk of an ectopic pregnancy because the fertilized egg can’t travel to the uterus. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants in the Fallopian tube or elsewhere in the abdominal cavity, because it can’t reach the uterus due to the blockage in the tube. Ectopic pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition which requires immediate surgery or treatment. The surgery may result in one or both Fallopian tubes being removed including any other tissue the fertilized egg is attached to. This is why it’s important to have an ultrasound asap after your pregnancy has been confirmed with a blood test. Your doctor will be able to see if the embryo is in the uterus – where it should be – or elsewhere. The smaller the embryo the less threat to your life and the smaller the damage from surgery or treatment with meds.
To understand how a fallopian tube can become blocked, you first need to understand a bit about the anatomy of these fascinating structures.
Fallopian tubes are very tiny and narrow, measuring 10 centimeters (4 inches) in length and width of a regular spaghetti. Inside this 10cm long spaghetti is a narrow passage the size of a sewing needle. The mature egg which needs to get through the tube is roughly the size of the full stop at the end of this sentence. So as you can imagine, it doesn’t take much to block such a narrow space.
Inside the Fallopian tube are small fingerlike projections called cilia. Their job is to move the egg along the tube down into the uterus. The cilia are also found elsewhere in the body – for example in the lungs where they move impurities and mucus out of the lungs. In addition to housing cilia, the tubes are lined with mucus to help the egg slide along them. The end of the tube near the ovary contains very slippery mucus to ensure the egg can slide in quickly. The end of the tube closer to the uterus contains thicker mucus to prevent the egg from reaching the uterus too soon. This is to allow sufficient time for the endometrium to thicken to sustain implantation and pregnancy. Nature is so clever and amazing!
Any mucus producing organ can become blocked. Take your nose for example. When you get a bad cold your nose can become so blocked with mucus that you can no longer breathe through it. Or alternatively, if you get hay-fever or another allergic reaction your nose can run profusely.
The same can happen in any mucus-lined tissue/organ in your body; in your lungs, in your gut, in your vagina and in your fallopian tubes.
There are a few types of fallopian tube blockages and they are classified according to the location of the blockage in the tube. The three kinds of fallopian tube blockages are the following:
Since it’s a silent condition, most women with blocked fallopian tubes usually have no symptoms. However, in some cases where the fallopian tubes are blocked with fluid (in the case of hydrosalpinx = “hydro” (water) + (salpinx) fallopian tube), women may experience recurring pelvic or abdominal pain or abnormal vaginal discharge.
The condition hydrosalpinx is usually associated with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometriosis, sexually transmitted infections or surgery. This condition may impair blood flow to the uterus and to the ovaries and may affect your ability to get pregnant.
The most common factors which can affect the thickness of the mucus and contribute to blocked fallopian tubes are:
Other more serious causes of blocked fallopian tubes are:
Some of these causes can lead to scarring and adhesions which can pull on and distort the fallopian tubes, in which case they may need to be removed surgically with laparoscopy.
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