One cause of infertility may be blockages in the fallopian tubes, which function to carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus, where a fertilized egg develops into a fetus. Scar tissue caused by infection and endometriosis are two common causes. Laparoscopy or in vitro fertilization are options for those with blocked fallopian tubes.
For women, the process of reproduction begins with the ovaries, which release eggs. The fallopian tubes then carry eggs to the uterus where they attach to the uterine wall if fertilized. Women have two fallopian tubes, each attached to one ovary and both attached to the uterus. Fallopian tubes are thin tubes, measuring about 4 inches long, and contain even smaller passageways through which the egg is carried or moved along by tiny hairs toward the uterus. If fallopian tubes are blocked, eggs cannot reach sperm and sperm cannot reach eggs, resulting in infertility.
Blockages in fallopian tubes occur in several ways. The most common cause of a blockage is scar tissue caused by infection. Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scarring and blockage of fallopian tubes and can also damage fallopian tubes, rendering the deposit of eggs from the ovaries impossible. Edometriosis, or the building up of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus, can also lead to scarring and blockage of the fallopian tubes. The endometrial tissue inside the uterus bleeds every month, resulting in menstruation. When endometrial tissue resides outside the uterus it functions much the same way in that it also bleeds. The body attempts to heal this bleeding tissue, now in places where it does not belong such as the fallopian tubes, which can cause scarring. Fallopian tubes may also become filled with fluid as a result of a blockage called hydrosalpinx. The fluid that builds up inside the fallopian tubes may leak into the uterus and prevent the embryo from thriving.
Ways to Identify
Blockages can occur in three places in the fallopian tubes: at the upper end of the tube near the ovaries; at the lower end of the tube near the uterus; or the entire tube may be blocked. The first step to identifying blocked fallopian tubes is to meet with a fertility expert. After a consultation, the fertility expert may perform tests including a hysterosalpingogram, which involves injecting a dye into the fallopian tubes to identify any blockages. A laparoscopy may also be conducted by inserting a small scope into an incision near the navel. In this surgery, dye is inserted into the uterus and if the dye is released on the other end of the tube, there is likely not a blockage.
Laparoscopy can also be used to treat blocked fallopian tubes by inserting the scope into the abdomen and cutting away scar tissue. This surgery works to unblock the fallopian tubes and once again allow eggs and sperm to meet and for the egg to become fertilized.
In Vitro Fertilization
Depending on the age of the patient, the extent of the blockage and the location of the blockage, doctors may instead recommend in vitro fertilization. With in vitro fertilization, the egg is fertilized outside of the woman's body and then inserted into the uterus, bypassing the need for fallopian tubes.