The fallopian tubes are an essential part of a woman's reproductive system – so when the fallopian tubes become blocked, it can create difficulties in trying to conceive.
In this guide, we take a detailed look at why your fallopian tubes are so important, how they can become blocked and which treatment options are available to improve your chances of starting – or extending – your family.
What are fallopian tubes?
The fallopian tubes are two thin tubes located on either side of your uterus. These tubes are lined with delicate hair-like structures that help transport eggs from your ovaries to your uterus. They also support the movement of sperm through the tube to the egg.
Your fallopian tubes play a very important role in reproduction – this is where most eggs become fertilised. Once the egg is fertilised the resulting embryo is transported back down the tube to the uterus where implantation takes place.
However, if your fallopian tubes become blocked or damaged, it can become difficult to conceive. This is because the sperm and the egg can’t meet.
Causes of blocked fallopian tubes
There are many different reasons why your fallopian tubes may become blocked and each cause may need a different treatment approach.
The most common causes of blocked fallopian tubes include:
Pelvic infection (including sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea) which may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease
A previous burst appendix (this causes inflammation)
Endometriosis – this can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes and affect their function.
Past ectopic pregnancy – this can cause scar tissue within your fallopian tubes
Previous abdominal or pelvic surgery that caused scar tissue
Most of these causes are unavoidable, such as endometriosis or appendicitis. However, you can reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by practising safe sex and taking STI tests regularly.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Blocked fallopian tubes don’t always cause noticeable symptoms. In fact, you may not even know you have a blockage until you struggle to conceive.
However, there are times when blocked fallopian tubes can cause mild symptoms. For example, some women can experience mild, but regular, pain on one side of their abdomen, usually as a result of fluid build-up.
If your blocked fallopian tube is caused by a condition like endometriosis, you may already be experiencing symptoms related to that condition, such as painful, heavy periods. Unfortunately, this condition cannot be cured and fertility treatment will often be necessary.
There may be factors in your history that put you at an increased risk of blocked tubes such as a past pelvic infection, an ectopic pregnancy or pelvic pain. For this reason, we take a detailed history at the first consultation to assess how likely it is that your tubes are blocked.
Diagnosing blocked fallopian tubes
Testing for blocked fallopian tubes can be done in a few different ways.
At BCRM, we use three different methods to provide you with accurate results and the answers you need to begin your fertility journey.
The tests we use to diagnose blocked fallopian tubes include:
HyCoSy – a Hystero Contrast Salpingogram is an ultrasound test that uses a contrast foam in your uterus and fallopian tubes. This foam shows up clearly on the ultrasound and confirms whether the tubes are open or not
HSG – a hysterosalpingogram is a special X-ray test that uses a contrast dye to show if your fallopian tubes are blocked.
Laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) – a surgical diagnostic test that involves passing a small camera through the belly button to look inside the pelvis. One or two other small cuts may need to be made (all 1cm or less). Dye is passed from down below and an assessment is made as to whether the dye is passing through the tubes. This not only tells us whether the tubes are open but gives us a greater amount of information about the state of your pelvis and for that reason is considered the gold standard when testing for blocked fallopian tubes.
Receiving an accurate diagnosis means you can receive the right treatment. It also ensures you receive the support you need if the blockage is caused by an underlying health condition, like endometriosis.
Treatment for blocked fallopian tubes
Treatment for blocked fallopian tubes may vary depending on how severe the blockage is and the underlying cause.
Sometimes it’s possible to unblock your fallopian tubes through surgery.
Laparoscopic or ‘keyhole’ surgery can be used to break up or remove scar tissue in the fallopian tubes. This helps to open up the fallopian tube and makes it easier for the egg and sperm to pass through.
In general, a damaged tube, even if repaired, is unlikely to function as a normal tube and therefore your best chance of conceiving may lie with IVF. These types of surgery may increase the risk of complications such as ectopic pregnancy, which is when the fertilised egg implants outside the womb.
Sometimes the tube is too badly damaged to repair a removal may be advised, especially if it is blocked and filled with fluid as this can affect success rates with fertility treatment.
Can you unblock fallopian tubes naturally?
It isn’t possible to unblock your fallopian tubes naturally. Some people claim that certain lifestyle habits, such as reducing stress, avoiding alcohol or taking certain vitamins can help to naturally unblock fallopian tubes. However, it’s important to remember that there is no scientific evidence to suggest lifestyle changes can treat blocked fallopian tubes.
Getting pregnant if you have blocked fallopian tubes
Blocked fallopian tubes can cause fertility problems, not only preventing the egg and sperm from meeting for fertilisation but also stopping a fertilised egg from moving into your uterus for implantation.
However, having blocked fallopian tubes doesn’t mean you definitely won’t be able to conceive.
If only one of your fallopian tubes is blocked, eggs can still travel through the unaffected tube.
In some cases – for example, if both tubes are blocked – in vitro fertilisation (IVF) may be recommended. IVF is a type of fertility treatment in which medications are given to grow eggs which are then removed from the ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. An embryologist will monitor the development of any fertilised eggs (embryos) and the best will then be chosen to be transferred back into the uterus.
Because the eggs are retrieved directly from the ovaries and fertilisation takes place outside the body, blockages in the fallopian tubes won’t affect this process.
Maintaining your fallopian tube health
The majority of causes of blocked fallopian tubes can’t be prevented. However, many cases of blocked fallopian tubes are the result of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is often (though not always) caused by sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
Reducing your risk of infection – and getting any worrying symptoms checked out – can help you keep on top of your fallopian tube health.
You can reduce your risk of STIs and PID by using condoms with any new sexual partner. You should also aim to have STI check-ups at least once every six months if you don’t have a regular partner.
It’s important to visit a GP or a sexual health clinic if you have any symptoms you’re worried about or notice any changes including:
Increased or new pelvic pain
Changes to your periods (such as heavy, painful or irregular periods)
Pain while weeing
Pain or discomfort during sex
The sooner any problems are caught and diagnosed, the more effective treatment can be. Early treatment may also help to prevent scar tissue from forming and blocking the fallopian tubes.
If you’re thinking about starting a family or growing yours, you may want to consider making some lifestyle changes to support your reproductive health, such as giving up smoking, reducing your alcohol intake and limiting stress. Leading a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and maintaining a well-balanced diet may help to optimise your fertility.
Get in touch with BCRM
Blocked fallopian tubes are a common cause of fertility problems, but there are treatment options available that can help you conceive.
At the Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine, we are here to support you throughout your journey – from your first appointment to diagnosis, to treatment and beyond. We can provide you with the treatment options you need to give you the best chances of starting your family.
Book an appointment with us today to discover how easy it can be to prioritise your gynaecological health and receive the fertility support you deserve.