Fallopian tube blockage is a major cause of female infertility. Blocked fallopian tubes are unable to let the ovum and the sperm converge, thus making fertilization impossible. Fallopian Tubes are also known as oviducts, uterine tubes, and salpinges (singular salpinx)..
Approximately 20% of female infertility can be attributed to tubal causes. Distal tubal occlusion (affecting the end towards the ovary) is typically associated with hydrosalpinx formation and often caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. Pelvic adhesions may be associated with such an infection. In less severe forms, the fimbriae may be aggluntinated and damaged, but some patency may still be preserved. Midsegment tubal obstruction can be due to tubal ligation procedures as that part of the tube is a common target of sterilization interventions. Proximal tubal occlusion can occur after infection such as a septic abortion. Also, some tubal sterilization procedures such as the Essure procedure target the part of the tube that is near the uterus.
Most commonly a tube may be obstructed due to infection such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The rate of tubal infertility has been reported to be 12% after one, 23% after two, and 53% after three episodes of PID. The Fallopian tubes may also be occluded or disabled by endometritis, infections after childbirth and intraabdominal infections including appendicitis and peritonitis. The formation of adhesions may not necessarily block a fallopian tube, but render it dysfunctional by distorting or separating it from the ovary. It has been reported that women with distal tubal occlusion have a higher rate of HIV infection.
Fallopian tubes may be blocked as a method of contraception. In these situations tubes tend to be healthy and typically patients requesting the procedure had children. Tubal ligation is considered a permanent procedure.
While a full testing of tubal functions in patients with infertility is not possible, testing of tubal patency is feasible. A hysterosalpingogram will demonstrate that tubes are open when the radioopaque dye spills into the abdominal cavity. Sonography can demonstrate tubal abnormalities such as a hydrosalpinx indicative of tubal occlusion. During surgery, typically laparoscopy, the status of the tubes can be inspected and a dye such as methylene blue can be injected in a process termed chromotubation into the uterus and shown to pass through the tubes when the cervix is occluded. Laparoscopic chromotubation has been described as the gold standard of tubal evaluation. As tubal disease is often related to Chlamydia infection, testing for Chlamydia antibodies has become a cost-effective screening device for tubal pathology.
Tubal insufflation is only of historical interest as an older office method to indicate patency; it was used prior to laparoscopic evaluation of pelvic organs.