It probably goes without saying that having anything “blocked” in your reproductive organs doesn’t bode well for your fertility. For instance, your fallopian tubes play a major role in your ability to conceive, and if one or both are blocked it can lead to potential fertility issues. 

The fallopian tubes are two thin tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus. In a typical menstrual cycle, during ovulation one of the ovaries releases an egg into one of the fallopian tubes, where it awaits fertilization from a sperm. The fertilized egg, or embryo, then moves through the fallopian tube until it reaches the uterus for implantation. 

According to Columbia Doctors, 25-30% of infertility cases are caused by a fallopian tube issue. 

A blocked fallopian tube hinders the sperm from reaching the egg; therefore, an embryo cannot reach the uterus. In other words, blocked tubes prevent fertilization and pregnancy.

woman in distress

What happens when your fallopian tubes are blocked? 

In addition to having one or two fully blocked fallopian tubes, it is also possible to have a partially blocked tube. This can increase your risk of an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when an embryo implants in the fallopian tube rather than the uterine wall. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable and can be life-threatening if left untreated. 

One of the tricky things about blocked fallopian tubes is the common lack of symptoms. Even with blocked tubes, it's still possible to menstruate regularly. In fact, most women don't even know they have blocked tubes until they eventually face infertility. 

How are blocked fallopian tubes diagnosed?

If your OB/GYN or fertility specialist is trying to determine whether or not the cause of your infertility is blocked fallopian tubes, their first line of defense is typically a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) procedure. 

During a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), a radiologist uses a special kind of X-ray to check the status of your fallopian tubes. During this slightly uncomfortable procedure, a speculum is inserted into the vagina, followed by a catheter. The technician then sends liquid dye via the catheter through your cervix into your uterus. By tracking whether or not the liquid successfully goes through both of your tubes, it can then be determined whether or not there is a blockage in one or both of your fallopian tubes. 

In some cases, even if the liquid does go through the fallopian tube(s), there still may be internal damage that could potentially affect fertilization and pregnancy. However, these false results only appear in about 15% of women

doctor determining a diagnosis for a patient

What are the common causes of blocked fallopian tubes? 

If another condition is to blame for your blocked tubes, such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease, you may experience pelvic pain or discomfort, pain during intercourse, or unusual vaginal discharge.

In fact, pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is the most common cause of blocked tubes. PID can develop as a result of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Even if your PID has been treated, having had it still increases your risk of blocked tubes. 

Other common causes of fallopian tube blockages include a previous ruptured appendix, abdominal surgery, or ectopic pregnancy. 

How are blocked fallopian tubes treated? 

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If it is discovered that you do, in fact, have one or two blocked fallopian tubes, don't panic! There are various treatment options, including for those trying to get pregnant.  

If just one tube is blocked, then your doctor may prescribe you medication to release more than one egg on the non-blocked side. This would increase your chances of getting pregnant each month during your fertile window. However, if both sides are blocked, then this will not be an option for you.

doctor in consultation with a patient

In this case, one possible treatment option is laparoscopic surgery, during which a surgeon can go in and remove the blockage or scar tissue. The success of this type of surgery depends on a number of things: how bad and where the blockage is, how old you are (unfortunately, the younger, the better), and what caused the blockage in the first place. In some instances, if the blockage cannot be cleared out, then that portion of your tube can be removed altogether and the surgeon can connect the remaining sides. 

Surgery is not always the best option and can, in some cases, cause more risks down the line. Fortunately, IVF is an option for women with blocked fallopian tubes, as it completely bypasses the blockages altogether. That being said, research has shown that an inflamed tube can hinder the success of IVF, which is why consulting with your fertility team will always yield the best options for your own personal success. 

Obviously, no one wants to get the news that their fallopian tubes, or a singular tube, are blocked. However, thanks to modern medicine and IVF there are options available to women where, in the past, there was little hope to be had. And that is something to celebrate. 

Brighid Flynn is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia where she lives with her husband and puppy. She is just beginning her journey toward motherhood.