Your fallopian tubes are a pair of hollow, muscular ducts located between your ovaries and your uterus. Each fallopian tube is a channel between your ovaries, where your body makes eggs, and your uterus, where a fertilized egg can develop into a fetus. Fertilization occurs in your fallopian tubes, making it a key part of your reproductive anatomy that affects your fertility.
Your fallopian tubes play an important role in conception and pregnancy. Think of a fallopian tube as:
A holding place for your egg: Each month, one of your ovaries releases a mature egg as part of your menstrual cycle. Finger-like structures at the end of your fallopian tube, called fimbriae, sweep the egg into the tube, where the egg waits to be fertilized.
The site where fertilization happens: If your partner ejaculates during intercourse, their sperm travels through your vagina, cervix, uterus and eventually into your fallopian tubes. Fertilization happens in your fallopian tubes when an egg and sperm meet.
An active passageway that moves a fertilized egg to your uterus: A fertilized egg (embryo) travels through your fallopian tubes until it reaches your uterus, where it can grow into a fetus. Your fallopian tube consists of powerful muscles that move the embryo along.
Yes. You may have been born with only one fallopian tube, or you may have had a fallopian tube removed because of a condition or injury. If you have at least one healthy fallopian tube and ovary, and your menstrual cycle is normal, you can still get pregnant.
You can also get pregnant without your fallopian tubes. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an option for individuals and couples who wish to have a baby that doesn’t require fallopian tubes at all.
You have two fallopian tubes: One on the right side of your uterus and one on the left side. Each tube extends from an ovary and opens into your uterus.
A fallopian tube has four parts:
. Infundibulum: The funnel-like portion of your fallopian tube that’s closest to your ovaries. It includes finger-like structures called fimbriae that reach out toward the ovary. A single fimbriae called the fimbria ovarica is long enough to reach your ovary. The fimbriae catch an egg once it’s released from your ovary and sweep it gently into your fallopian tube.
. Ampulla: The major channel in your fallopian tube, located in-between the infundibulum and the isthmus. Fertilization most often takes place in the ampulla.
. Isthmus: A tiny channel that connects the ampulla to the portion of your fallopian tube that’s closest to your uterus, the intramural portion.
. Intramural (interstitial) portion: The part of your fallopian tube that extends into the top of your uterus. It opens into your uterine cavity, where an embryo can implant into your uterine wall and develop into a fetus.
Each fallopian tube is between 4 to 5 inches long and between 0.2 to 0.6 inches in diameter.
A fallopian tube consists of a thin mucous membrane and layers of muscle.
. Mucous membrane: A delicate lining in your fallopian tubes secrete fluids that maintain an environment where fertilization can happen and an embryo can develop. Small hair-like structures in the lining (cilia) sway, moving eggs, sperm and an embryo (if fertilization takes place) through your fallopian tubes.
. Muscular layers: Your fallopian tube’s muscular wall has varied layers. The outermost layer is mostly smooth, long muscle fibers. The innermost layer consists of circular fibers. Together, these muscles contract (squeeze) to move an egg, sperm, or embryo through your fallopian tubes, along with the help of the cilia.
Your fallopian tubes play a crucial role in enabling sperm to reach your egg and transporting a fertilized egg to your uterus. You may have trouble getting pregnant if there’s a blockage in your fallopian tubes (tubal obstruction) or a structural irregularity. Twenty to 30% of infertility cases involve problems associated with the fallopian tubes (tubal factor infertility).
Common conditions that affect your fallopian tubes include:
. Ectopic (tubal) pregnancy: An embryo can implant in your fallopian tubes instead of in your uterine wall. These pregnancies aren’t viable and can be life-threatening without treatment.
. Endometriosis: Out-of-place tissue from your uterus lining can block your fallopian tubes or cause scarring that makes it harder for you to become pregnant.
. Fallopian tube cancer: Some types of cancer previously diagnosed as ovarian cancer may actually begin in your fallopian tubes. High-grade serous ovarian cancer isn’t usually diagnosed until it’s in the late stages, when the prognosis isn’t good. According to new research, it’s likely that this cancer originates in your fallopian tubes, not your ovaries.
. Fibroids: Fibroids most commonly grow in your uterus, but they can surface in your fallopian tubes, too, blocking them.
. Hydrosalpinx: Your fallopian tubes can become blocked with fluid build-up following an injury or an infection. The blockage may make it harder for you to become pregnant.
. Paratubal cysts: These fluid-filled masses form near your ovaries and fallopian tubes. They’re benign (noncancerous) and usually resolve without treatment.
. Salpingitis/Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): Inflammation of your fallopian tubes, called salpingitis, is most often caused by an infection. Salpingitis is a type of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Untreated, PID can lead to infertility and increase your risk of ectopic pregnancy. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and genital tuberculosis have all been linked to PID and infertility.
Congenital abnormalities and scarring following abdominal surgery can also lead to fertility issues related to your fallopian tubes.
The most common tests check for blockages in your fallopian tubes that may be making it hard for you to become pregnant.
. Hysterosalpingogram (HSG): An x-ray dye test used to diagnose problems related to pregnancy and fertility. An HSG can show whether your fallopian tubes are blocked.
. Hysteroscopy: A procedure that uses a thin lighted instrument called a hysteroscope to look inside your uterus. It often follows an HSG and can confirm whether your fallopian tubes are blocked.
. Saline-infusion sonography (sonohysterogram): An ultrasound procedure that produces an image of your uterus while it’s filled with saline. It can show whether your fallopian tubes are blocked.
. Hysterosalpingo contrast sonography (HyCoSy): An ultrasound that produces an image of your fallopian tubes while they’re filled with a solution that contains air bubbles or foam. The solution’s movement can reveal blockages.
. Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure that uses a small lighted camera called a laparoscope to show whether your fallopian tubes are blocked. Your provider may recommend a laparoscopy and dye test, which allows them to see how the dye is (or isn’t) moving through your fallopian tubes.
Treating fallopian tube-related conditions may require repairing or removing one or both fallopian tubes.
. Salipingectomy: Surgery that removes a single fallopian tube or both fallopian tubes (bilateral salpingectomy).
. Salpingo-oophorectomy: Surgery that removes your fallopian tubes and ovaries.
. Salpingostomy: Procedure that involves making an incision (cut) into a fallopian tube to remove an ectopic pregnancy, remove a blockage in your fallopian tube or repair damaged tissue.
. Tubal reconstructive surgery: Procedure used to reverse a tubal ligation or repair damaged fallopian tubes.
. Tubal ligation: Sterilization procedure that cuts your fallopian tubes or blocks them so that an egg and sperm can no longer meet. Tubal ligation is the same as “getting your tubes tied.”
Many conditions that affect your fallopian tubes are out of your control, but you can take steps to prevent infections that can damage your fallopian tubes and cause infertility. Practicing safer sex and limiting your number of sex partners can reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can lead to PID.