Getting pregnant can prove difficult for some women. One of the leading causes of female infertility is tubal factor infertility. Tubal infertility is when the cause of female infertility lies in the fallopian tubes.
Let’s look at what there is to know about how to get pregnant when you have a blocked fallopian tube.
Anatomy and physiology of the female reproductive system
Women have two ovaries, one at each side of the uterus. The fallopian tubes are two thin tubes that connect the ovaries with the uterus.
Each month, before ovulation, the follicles in each ovary start to develop, until one mature egg is released from one ovary during ovulation.
The fimbriae is the part of the fallopian tube that receives the egg. Here, the mature egg starts its journey toward the uterus; the fallopian tubes link each ovary with the uterus.
Follicles develop during each menstrual cycle. Once ovulation occurs, the orifice left in the ovary, called the corpus luteum, will tell the ovaries to stop developing follicles as ovulation has been achieved. For most women, ovulation happens indiscriminately in one or other of the ovaries. Neither ovary has priority.
There are women, however, who have only one functioning ovary; they ovulate every month from that healthy ovary.
When both ovaries are functioning well, at the end of a woman’s fertile life both ovaries will have released a similar number of eggs.
Learn more about the menstrual cycle in Menstrual Cycle – Stages, Phases And What To Expect.
Getting pregnant with a blocked fallopian tube
If a woman’s fallopian tubes are blocked, it will be difficult to achieve pregnancy naturally. However, if there’s just one blocked tube, the chances of becoming pregnant naturally are quite high. In every month where ovulation occurs on the side where the fallopian tube isn’t blocked, the chances of pregnancy are very similar to those of a woman without blocked fallopian tubes.
What causes fallopian tube blockages?
The fallopian tubes are very thin tubes. The inside of the fallopian tubes is about the diameter of a human hair. There are several circumstances that can cause blocked fallopian tubes.
Given how thin the inside of a fallopian tube is, one can easily understand that anything that causes the fallopian tubes to become inflamed can easily block it.
A pelvic infection, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, can easily cause a tubal blockage. Other conditions, such as endometriosis (where endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus) or even appendicitis, can also cause pelvic inflammation.
If pelvic inflammation happens on one occasion, the tubal blockage might last for just a short time. If the inflammation happens over a long period of time (as in pelvic inflammatory disease), the damage to the fallopian tubes could be irreversible.
#2. Scar tissue
Scar tissue is much more rigid than normal tissue. Advanced endometriosis, pelvic infections or previous abdominal surgery can lead to scar tissue formation. Even laparoscopic surgery can lead to the formation of scar tissue near the fallopian tubes.
#3. A sexually transmitted infection
Sexually transmitted diseases can cause both inflammation and scar tissue. Some of the sexually transmitted infections that cause the most damage and affect fertility are completely asymptomatic and you will not know you’ve had such an infection unless you look for it. Safe sexual practices are of paramount importance in staying fertile and healthy.
#4. Ectopic pregnancy
An ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg implants outside the inner layer of the uterus. Although not always the case, an ectopic pregnancy is usually a tubal pregnancy. Research shows that when an ectopic pregnancy happens inside a fallopian tube it’s quite likely that the fallopian tube will become a blocked tube once the ectopic pregnancy has been resolved.
An ectopic pregnancy is the number one cause of one-sided blocked tube. Pregnancy can still be achieved with partially blocked fallopian tubes.
It’s important for a woman with a tubal disease/blocked fallopian tubes to visit her healthcare provider the moment she thinks she’s pregnant, as an ectopic pregnancy will endanger the woman’s life.
You can read more about ectopic pregnancy in our article Ectopic Pregnancy | Symptoms, Signs And Treatment.
#5. Tubal ligation
If you’ve had previous tubal surgery as a birth control method you will, of course, have artificially blocked fallopian tubes. If this is your situation, check your options with your fertility specialist.
Research shows that reproductive medicine, tubal ligation reversal, and in vitro fertilization are rapidly advancing. A few years ago tubal ligation was a definite birth control method. However, thanks to the advance of reproductive medicine, many women can get pregnant nowadays after tubal ligation surgery.
Symptoms of blocked fallopian tube
Although a fallopian tube is tiny, most tubal blockages produce few or no symptoms. Lower abdominal pain or undefined pelvic pain can be a sign of blocked fallopian tubes. Most women have no symptoms and they find out only after they’ve been unsuccessful when trying to get pregnant.
Some of these symptoms, if present, are quite vague. There can be painful periods or unusual vaginal discharge.
No symptoms will be useful in determining whether it’s either both or just one fallopian tube that is blocked.
Can fallopian tubes be blocked after first pregnancy?
Suspecting you have blocked fallopian tubes can happen at any time in life. Even if you’ve been pregnant before, something might have happened to block your fallopian tubes.
Blocked tubes can happen at any age – before getting pregnant for the first time or after several pregnancies.
High-risk pregnancies or complicated birth experiences can also cause damage to one fallopian tube or both.
If you are finding it difficult to get pregnant naturally after your first pregnancy, get in touch with your healthcare provider, who will be able to put you in contact with the right fertility specialists.
Blocked fallopian tubes – diagnosis
Hysterosalpingography is a technique where the doctor inserts a dye into your uterus and the fallopian tubes. This makes it possible to see, via X-ray, the inside of the fallopian tubes to identify where the blockage is.
Sometimes, depending on the blockage, your doctor might be able to remove the blockage straight away.
If removal of the blockage isn’t possible immediately, there are other treatment options available.
Blocked fallopian tubes – treatment
Fertility specialists will be able to discuss the most appropriate treatment once the tubal blockage has been diagnosed.
1. Laparoscopic surgery for small blockages
If the tubal occlusion is caused by a small number of adhesions or by scar tissue, your doctor might be able to remove the scar tissue and open up the tubes again.
2. Tubal cannulation
Depending on the amount of tubal damage, tubal cannulation could be an option.
In this procedure, the doctor introduces a small cannula into the blocked fallopian tubes, to try to push the blockage away.
3. Tubal surgery
If the adhesions/scar tissue removal is not possible the doctor might be able to remove the damaged part of the fallopian tube and then connect the remaining parts of the healthy tube together.
In vitro fertilization
If the tubal damage cannot be repaired, in vitro fertilization can be a successful option for many women.
Research shows that when the cause of infertility is ‘just’ blocked fallopian tubes but the rest of the reproductive system is healthy, the chances of IVF success are greater, as the cause of infertility has been removed.
Your fertility expert will be able to advise you on the best treatment for your specific circumstances.
Where does the egg go if fallopian tubes are blocked?
The human egg is the biggest cell present in our bodies. Even so, it’s still a tiny cell.
Remember that the inside of a healthy fallopian tube is no thicker than a hair and the egg navigates easily through the fallopian tube month after month. Even when conception occurs and the embryo starts to develop, there’s still plenty of room for it to travel safely to the uterus.
When an egg is not fertilized, it dies within 24-48 hours. Even if the egg cannot go through the fallopian tube it will just be reabsorbed by the woman’s body.
Read more in Blocked Fallopian Tubes | Warning Signs Of Hydrosalpinx.