Blocked fallopian tubes are one possible cause of female infertility. There are usually no symptoms, but there are some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing the condition. The medical term for a blocked fallopian tube is tubal occlusion.
The fallopian tubes are two thin tubes, one on each side of the uterus, which help lead the mature egg from the ovaries to the uterus. When an obstruction prevents the egg from traveling down the tube, a woman has a blocked fallopian tube, also known as tubal factor infertility. This can occur on one or both sides and is the cause of infertility in up to 30% of infertile women.
It’s unusual for women with blocked fallopian tubes to experience any symptoms. Many women assume that if they are having regular periods, their fertility is fine. This isn’t always true.
Each month, when ovulation occurs, an egg is released from one of the ovaries. The egg travels from the ovary, through the tubes, and into the uterus. The sperm also need to swim from the cervix, through the uterus, and through the fallopian tubes to get to the egg. Fertilization usually takes place while the egg is traveling through the tube.
If one or both fallopian tubes are blocked, the egg cannot reach the uterus, and the sperm cannot reach the egg, preventing fertilization and pregnancy. It’s also possible for the tube not to be blocked totally, but only partially. This can increase the risk of a tubal pregnancy, or ectopic pregnancy.
Blocked Fallopian Tube Symptoms
Unlike anovulation, where irregular menstrual cycles may hint at a problem, blocked fallopian tubes rarely cause symptoms. The first “symptom” of blocked fallopian tubes is often infertility. If you don’t get pregnant after one year of trying (or after six months, if you’re age 35 or older), your doctor will order a specialized X-ray to check your fallopian tubes, along with another basic fertility testing.
A specific kind of blocked fallopian tube called hydrosalpinx may cause lower abdominal pain and unusual vaginal discharge, but not every woman will have these symptoms. Hydrosalpinx is when a blockage causes the tube to dilate (increase in diameter) and fill with fluid. The fluid blocks the egg and sperm, preventing fertilization and pregnancy.
However, some of the causes of blocked fallopian tubes can have their own symptoms. For example, endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) may cause painful menstruation and painful sexual intercourse.
Symptoms that could indicate pelvic infection include:
- general pelvic pain
- pain during sexual intercourse
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- fever over 101 (in acute cases)
- nausea and vomiting (in acute cases)
- severe lower abdominal or pelvic pain (in acute cases)
Causes Of Blocked Fallopian Tubes
The most common cause of blocked fallopian tubes is PID. Pelvic inflammatory disease is the result of a sexually transmitted disease, although not all pelvic infections are related to STDs. Also, even if PID is no longer present, a history of PID or pelvic infection increases the risk of blocked tubes.
Other potential causes of blocked fallopian tubes include:
- History of uterine infection caused by an abortion or miscarriage
- History of a ruptured appendix
- Prior surgery involving the fallopian tubes, including tubal ligation
- endometriosis, which can cause a tissue buildup in the tubes
- pelvic inflammatory disease, a disease that can cause scarring
- fibroids, which are growths that can block the fallopian tube
- scars, which can be caused by ectopic pregnancies or abdominal surgery
- some sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea
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