Fallopian Tubes

Definition - What does Fallopian Tubes mean?

The fallopian tubes are the passages connecting the ovaries to the uterus. Each ovary has a single fallopian tube, which allows a woman's eggs to travel from the ovaries to the uterus. If the fallopian tubes become blocked or do not function properly, infertility may result due to the inability of the egg to become fertilized or reach the uterus.

A fallopian tube may also be called oviduct.

FertilitySmarts explains Fallopian Tubes

Under normal circumstances, each month a single egg is released by to travel to the uterus by way of its ovary's fallopian tube. In the case of successful ovulation and fertilization, the egg is typically fertilized by sperm in a fallopian tube and travels towards the uterus where it implants in the uterine lining where the pregnancy may be carried to term. However, in cases where the egg is not able to pass from the fallopian tube to the uterus, pregnancy cannot be completed successfully. Infertility may result if a blocked or malfunctioning fallopian tube prevents eggs from encountering sperm.

A dangerous condition called ectopic pregnancy, which may result in the loss of an ovary, can result if an egg is fertilized and implants in the fallopian tube instead of passing into the uterus.

Causes of blocked fallopian tubes can include:

  • Infections such as chlamydia or pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Ruptured appendicitis
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Past injury or surgery to the fallopian tubes
  • Congenital (from birth) malformation of the fallopian tubes
  • Past ectopic pregnancy resulting in tubal damage
  • Current use of some birth control methods may impair the transport of eggs down the fallopian tube. This effect helps to prevent pregnancy, but may increase the chances that any pregnancy that does occur will be ectopic. This effect disappears when birth control is no longer in use.

To determine if fallopian tubes are visibly blocked, doctors may perform a pelvic ultrasound, hysteroscopy, laproscopy, or hysterosalpingography (an X-ray which traces dye to see if it can pass from the uterus into the ovaries). A blood test may also be performed to look for evidence of infections such as chlamydia, which may cause tubal scarring.

If only one fallopian tube is blocked, pregnancy is possible, but is less likely because each ovary releases an egg during only about 50% of ovulatory cycles. In these cases, doctors may prescribe fertility drugs to increase the frequency of ovulation from the un-blocked ovary.

If both fallopian tubes are blocked or are not functioning properly, surgery to unblock the tubes may be attempted. Unfortunately, in cases where the blockage is extensive, surgery to remove the blockage may itself may prompt the formation of scar tissue that can interfere with tube functioning.

In cases where tubes are severely blocked, in vitro fertilization can be used to harvest mature eggs directly from the ovaries and fertilize them outside of the body. Then, fertilized eggs are introduced to the uterus by doctors.

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