The inability to conceive can be utterly disheartening for women who are eagerly looking forward to becoming mothers. There are a number of reasons which may make it difficult for a woman to get pregnant.
Blockage in the fallopian tubes is perhaps one of the main causes of female infertility. This is also known as tubal factor infertility. According to statistics, about 40% of infertility cases are due to this condition.
Ovulation and Fertilization
When a woman ovulates, an egg is released from one of her ovaries. This egg then travels from the ovary into the uterus through the fallopian tubes. On the other hand, the sperm needs to make its way from the cervix, through the uterus and the fallopian tubes in order to reach the egg. Fertilization generally occurs while the egg is traveling through the fallopian tube.
Blocked Fallopian Tubes Prevent Fertilization
If there is a blockage in the fallopian tube (one or both), the egg fails to reach the uterus while the sperm is unable to reach the egg. This, in turn, prevents fertilization and pregnancy.
A partial blockage in the fallopian tube may lead to other issues such as tubal pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy.
To put it simply, fertilization takes place in one of the fallopian tubes, and the embryo then develops in the uterus. A blockage prevents the egg from meeting the sperm for fertilization, thus preventing conception.
Symptoms of Blocked Fallopian Tubes
This condition may go undiagnosed until a woman seeks medical intervention for having trouble getting pregnant. This happens because blocked fallopian tubes are generally asymptomatic.
If a woman fails to conceive after trying for one year (six months for women aged 35 years or older), the doctor would recommend a specialized X-ray along with other fertility tests to check the fallopian tubes.
Sometimes, the causes behind blocked fallopian tubes may lead to other issues. For instance, pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis may cause a woman to experience pain during menstruation or sexual intercourse.
However, these symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have a blockage in the fallopian tubes.
In some cases, a fertilized egg may get stuck due to a blocked fallopian tube. This is called ectopic pregnancy and results in painful pregnancy symptoms. If not diagnosed in time, ectopic pregnancy may even become life-threatening.
Causes of Blocked Fallopian Tubes
A blockage can occur in one or both fallopian tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus. It can be because of inflammation, infection, or even adhesions on a scar after healing from a surgery.
Some common conditions or procedures that may cause blocked fallopian tubes are:
- Tubal ligation
- History of a ruptured appendix
- Current or history of an STD infection, specifically chlamydia or gonorrhea
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- History of uterine infection caused by an abortion or miscarriage
- Previous ectopic pregnancy
- Prior surgery involving the fallopian tubes
- History of abdominal surgery such as caesarean section
- Uterine fibroids
Pelvic infections, which can be but are not always a result of sexually transmitted infections, are major causes of blocked fallopian tubes. A few other causes and risks associated with pelvic infection are:
- Previous pelvic surgery
- Having a dilation and curettage (D&C)
- Complications after an abortion, miscarriage, or childbirth
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology suggests that chlamydia-associated salpingitis (inflammation of the fallopian tube), whether clinically evident or subclinical, is a major contributor to diseases of tubal dysfunction.
An effective step towards prevention of tubal infertility is regular screening of STIs and getting troublesome symptoms checked out by a medical professional immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment of STI or pelvic infection can help in preventing the development of scar tissue, which can lead to fallopian tube damage.
Watch out for the following symptoms:
- Pain during intercourse
- In acute cases, fever over 101 F
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Severe pain in the pelvic or lower abdominal area (in acute cases)
- Vomiting or nausea (in acute cases)
Acute pelvic infections are a serious concern, which may even prove to be life-threatening. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience high fever or severe pain.
In order to prevent fallopian tube damage from sexually transmitted infections, the use of condom and regular testing for STIs are recommended, especially for those who indulge in high-risk sexual behavior.
Diagnosing Fallopian Tube Blockage
Identifying this problem is not easy. The fallopian tubes can open and close, making it difficult to figure out whether they are blocked or simply closed.
Blocked fallopian tubes are diagnosed through three main tests, which are:
- X-ray test
- Ultrasound test
- Laparoscopy or keyhole surgery
The doctor may also suggest a possible diagnosis on the basis of medical history. For instance, if a woman who has had a burst appendix in the past faces difficulties in getting pregnant, this could be due to fallopian tube blockage.
Treatment Options and Associated Risks
If you have one blocked fallopian tube and the other one is healthy, then it won’t affect your fertility much and you can still conceive with little medical assistance and fertility drugs. However, if both the tubes are blocked, surgery is required to unblock the tubes or you may opt for in vitro fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant without having the tubes unblocked.
Like any other surgery, there are several risks involved in the surgical treatment of this condition. Potential complications associated with the surgery for opening blocked fallopian tubes are:
- Creation of more scar tissue
- Damage to organs
Ectopic pregnancy is another risk of after tubal surgery. Women who have had tubal surgery are recommended to visit their doctor as soon as they discover that they are pregnant in order to get examined for ectopic pregnancy.
Here are some alternative methods that may help unblock a fallopian tube.
1. Fertility Massage
Massage therapy is suitable for those who would like to try a few alternative options before going for surgery. This manual physical therapy, which involves massaging the abdomen area, can be effective in unblocking the fallopian tubes and improving their health and functioning.
Massage can help in improving the blood circulation in and around the fallopian tubes. This results in the breaking up of scar tissue and adhesions and reduction in inflammation.
According to a study published in Alternative Therapies (2015), manual physical therapy can be useful in reversing female infertility caused by occluded fallopian tubes, endometriosis, hormonal dysregulation, and unexplained infertility. It also helps in increasing successful in vitro cycles.
The study included a chart review (in which 1, 392 infertile women were taken into consideration), which showed that manual physical therapy treatment had a 60 percent success rate in opening at least 1 of the fallopian tubes. A 57 percent pregnancy rate was seen in women whose tubes were unblocked by treatment in a physical therapy clinic.
- Lie down on your back.
- Place a pillow below your lower back and relax.
- Take some warm olive oil and gently massage your lower abdomen.
- While massaging your abdomen, try to pull the area beneath your pelvic bone towards your navel and count to 10 while holding this position.
- Release your hands after the count of 10.
- Repeat this procedure about 10 to 20 times.
- Do this remedy daily.
For best results, visit a massage therapist who specializes in abdominal massage.
Note: This remedy is not recommended for women who are menstruating or pregnant.
2. Lifestyle Changes
Blockage in fallopian tube cannot be treated completely without medical intervention. However, there a number of healthy habits and lifestyle changes that can help you efficiently manage the various complications associated with this condition as well as related causes such as endometriosis. These tips can also be helpful in bringing down your chances of suffering from this problem.
- Acupuncture: This can also help deal with symptoms associated with endometriosis-related pain.
- Energy exercises: These help by improving the circulation of blood and vital energies throughout the body. Exercise can decrease inflammation in your entire body, including your fallopian tubes.
- Yoga: Practice yoga regularly. This will help you increase your chances of getting pregnant as yoga can decrease stress and help clear your mind. Yoga helps channel relaxing energies of your body in a systematic manner, thus enabling you to maintain good reproductive as well as overall health.
- Avoid smoking: Getting rid of this extremely harmful habit will help you improve the health of your fallopian tubes and reduce your risk of suffering from issues such as ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, potential damage to DNA in the follicles, and decrease in follicle count.
- Avoid excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine: According to a study that can be found in the British Journal of Pharmacology (2011), caffeine seems to decrease the muscle activity in the fallopian tubes. Excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeinated beverages may decrease your chances of getting pregnant.
- Applying activated charcoal poultice over the abdomen area at night may help in drawing out infection and reducing inflammation.
- Promote good health and keep your stress level in check by practicing meditation. Excess stress may make it more difficult for you to get pregnant.
- Eat food items that are rich in antioxidants to promote good health.
- Take measures to maintain a healthy body weight as being overweight or underweight may cause fertility issues.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Drinking enough water will help your body in eliminating toxins.
- Include more vegetables, fruits, and food items rich in B vitamins, iron, calcium, folate, and selenium in your diet.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Mario A. Congiu MD, PhD (Obstetrics and Gynaecology)
What are the common symptoms of blocked fallopian tubes?
The fallopian tube is also called sapling. When the fallopian tube is blocked it fills with clear fluid and is then called hydrosalpinx. The blocked tube may become substantially distended giving the tube a characteristic sausage-like or retort-like shape.
In the event that the fallopian tubes get filled with pus, it is referred to as pyosalpinx. Symptoms can vary from none to severe, however the most frequent are pelvic pain, temperature. Often, the condition is associated with PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). Common symptoms of PID are uterine tenderness, or Adnexal tenderness or Cervical motion tenderness.
Can a woman still ovulate if she has a blockage in her fallopian tube?
Yes, a woman can still ovulate if she has a blockage in her tube(s). However, the obstruction in the passage of the oocyte might cause an ectopic pregnancy or infertility.
Do women with blocked fallopian tubes still menstruate?
Yes, women with a blocked fallopian tube can still menstruate.
Can a miscarriage cause a blockage in the fallopian tubes?
Yes, a miscarriage can cause a blockage of the fallopian tube.
What is the standard treatment method for blocked fallopian tubes?
If Hydrosalpinx is diagnosed and PID (pelvic inflammatory disease) is suspected, patients can be treated with antibiotics as outpatients.
However, according to the 2006 CDC guidelines, patient hospitalization due to fallopian blockage should be determined at the discretion of the physician. The physician may even recommend surgical treatment at his/her own discretion, especially if:
- a pregnancy is suspected
- the presence of tuba-ovarian abscess is detected, which is found in almost 15% of all such cases
- patients are noncompliant or cannot tolerate oral therapy
- symptoms are severe and include nausea, vomiting, and high fever
- response to an outpatient regimen is inadequate
- uncertain diagnosis and surgical emergencies cannot be ruled out (eg. appendicitis)
Please provide some additional tips for women suffering from blocked fallopian tubes.
It is very important to refer any patient with a suspicion of blocked tubes to a general gynecologist for further investigation/treatment.
About Dr. Mario Congiu, MD, PhD.: Dr. Congiu is the Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer and Senior Consultant in Gynaecological Oncology, UK. He graduated from the medical school at the University of Rome La Sapienza and his residency in Obstetrics and Gynaecology was completed at the Catholic University of Rome. Dr. Conjiu is Gynecologic Oncology trained from the University of Rome Campus Biomedico.
He holds a PhD in perinatal medicine from University of Rome Tor Vergata. His clinical specialties include innovative cancer surgery, minimally invasive surgery, and robotic-assisted surgery.
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