Hydrosalpinx: Treatment, Causes, Diagnosis, Symptoms

What You Need to Know About Hydrosalpinx and Pregnancy

Woman with her hands on her abdomen
Hydrosalpinx does not often cause noticeable symptoms, but some women will experience pelvic pain. Vincent Besnault / Getty Images

A hydrosalpinx is a specific type of fallopian tube blockage. The fallopian tubes extend from the uterus, one on the right and one on the left. If they become blocked or infected, infertility may result.

Blocked fallopian tubes are a common cause of infertility. Studies have found that hydrosalpinx blockages are present in 10 to 30 percent of tubal infertility cases.

What causes a hydrosalpinx? How is it diagnosed?

And most important, how can it be treated? And can you get pregnant with one?

What Causes a Hydrosalpinx?

A hydrosalpinx is when a blocked fallopian tube fills with fluid. If both tubes are affected, this is called hydrosalpinges. The tube usually appears distended, which means it is swollen with fluid.

Most often, hydrosalpinx is caused by a long-term infection of the fallopian tubes. This injection may occur due a sexually transmitted disease, a ruptured appendix, or any other cause of infection that impacts the reproductive system or nearby organs.

Hydrosalpinx may also be caused if adhesions (which is scar tissue) or endometrial deposits (from endometriosis) irritate the fallopian tubes.

How Does a Hydrosalpinx Cause Infertility?

A hydrosalpinx blockage is typically on the far end of the fallopian tube, near the ovaries, but it is possible for blockage to exist at both ends.

In a healthy reproductive system, the fallopian tube serves as both the pathway for an ovulated egg to reach the uterus.

After an egg is released from the ovary, finger like projections from the fallopian tube draw the egg in.

Assuming sex has taken place close to ovulation, the egg will meet with sperm inside the tube. Fertilization of the egg will occur inside the tube—and not inside the uterus, which is a common misconception.

The fertilized egg, or embryo, will make its way down the tube, into the uterus, and implant itself into the uterine wall.

If this pathway is blocked, as it is with a hydrosalpinx, infertility may result.

Normally, finger-like projections called fimbriae extend from the end of the fallopian tube close to the ovary, and they help draw in the ovulated egg from the ovary into the fallopian tube.

With a hydrosalpinx, the fimbriae are often damaged and stuck together.

Depending on the cause for the hydrosalpinx, additional adhesions around the fallopian tube and ovary may occur. This can also interfere with ovulation and fertility.

Can You Get Pregnant With One Normal Tube and One Hydrosalpinx Blocked Tube?

What if only one tube is a hydrosalpinx and the other is healthy? Can you get pregnant with just one fallopian tube?

The simple answer is, yes, technically speaking. It's possible to conceive with just one open tube.

However, with a hydrosalpinx, the delicate environment of the uterus may be affected.

This reduces pregnancy rates.

The irritation and/or adhesions associated with the hydrosalpinx seem to reduce the possibility of conception occurring via the healthy tube. It's also possible that the fluid buildup inside the affected tube may leak into the uterus, impacting embryo implantation.

When patients go straight to IVF treatment, completely bypassing the need for fallopian tubes, if a hydrosalpinx is present, pregnancy and live birth rates are much lower than would be expected.

This is why many fertility specialists suggest surgical removal of the hydrosalpinx before beginning IVF treatment.

Another option is artificial blockage of the affected tube at the uterine end, so it is less likely to affect the uterine environment.

How Is a Hydrosalpinx Diagnosed?

Blocked tubes are usually diagnosed during a fertility workup. An HSG – a special kind of x-ray – can show tubal blockages. 

To determine if the blockage is a hydrosalpinx, a sonohysterosalpingography may be needed. This procedure involves passing saline fluid and sterile air through the cervix and into the uterus, and then using a transvaginal ultrasound to visualize the reproductive organs.

Ultrasound can also be used to diagnose hydrosalpinx, but it’s not always possible to visualize the fluid-filled tube this way. One study found that only 34% of hydrosalpinx were visible via ultrasound.

Laparoscopy may be used to diagnose hydrosalpinx. Diagnostic laparoscopy can also determine if additional factors, like endometriosis, are causing fertility problems.

What Are the Symptoms of Hydrosalpinx?

With hydrosalpinx, infertility is often the first and only symptom that something is wrong. Most women don’t have any symptoms and are diagnosed only after they try to unsuccessfully have children.

However, some women will experience pelvic pain. Rarely, there may be some unusual vaginal discharge.

They may also have symptoms of the root cause of hydrosalpinx.

For example, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a risk factor for hydrosalpinx.

What Are the Treatment Options for Hydrosalpinx?

Surgery is the most common treatment for hydrosalpinx, with IVF treatment after to aid in conception. Most often, the fallopian tube is removed completely. Depending on the route cause of the hydrosalpinx, surgery may also involved removal of other adhesions, scar tissue, or endometrial growths.

If PID is responsible for the hydrosalpinx, you may also received antibiotics to treat lingering infections.

What about going straight to IVF without surgical treatment of the hydrosalpinx? The problem here is that IVF success odds are lower when a hydrosalpinx is present.

For this reason, the frequently recommended treatment is to have the affected tube surgically removed. Then, IVF treatment is commenced. 

What about surgical repair of a blocked fallopian tube—where the blockage is opened but the tube is left in tact? For women who go this route, natural conception after the repair is usually the goal. 

The problem is that with a hydrosalpinx, the blockage and swelling often return. For this reason, repair of the blockage followed by an attempt at natural conception is not recommended.

Sources:

Aboulghar MA1, Mansour RT, Serour GI. “Controversies in the modern management of hydrosalpinx.” Hum Reprod Update. 1998 Nov-Dec;4(6):882-90.

Conceiving After Tubal Surgery: Fact Sheet. American Association of Reproductive Medicine.

Hydrosalpinx: Fact Sheet. American Association of Reproductive Medicine.

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