What Is a Fallopian Tube? - Function, Obstruction & Definition

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Margaret Cunningham

This lesson will explore an important structure within the female reproductive system known as the fallopian tube. It will explain the function of the fallopian tubes and discuss several medical problems associated with this structure.

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All human babies - including you - start out as a tiny egg that must go on a long and complicated journey through the female reproductive system. First, the egg is created within the ovary, where it stays until ovulation occurs. When ovulation occurs, the egg is released from the ovary into the pelvic cavity. At this point in the journey the egg is vulnerable because it is no longer contained within the safe ovary. This is when the important structure known as the fallopian tube helps the egg out.

The fallopian tube, also known as the oviduct or uterine tube, is responsible for carrying the egg to the uterus. The fallopian tube has finger-like branches, called fimbriae, which reach out into the pelvic cavity and pick up the released egg. The egg is then brought into the fallopian tube where it will travel to the uterus.

Not only does the fallopian tube collect and transport the egg, it is also the location where fertilization occurs. Sperm cells that enter the reproductive system through the vagina travel to the fallopian tube where they fertilize the egg. The fertilized egg then continues its journey to the uterus where it will implant and safely develop into a baby.

Structures of the Female Reproductive System
fallopian tube

Medical Problems Associated with the Fallopian Tube

The fallopian tube is a crucial structure involved in successful reproduction and, like with all structures in the human body, sometimes problems occur that hinder the structure's ability to function properly. As you now know, the main function of the fallopian tube is to transport the egg from the ovary to the uterus. Unfortunately, there are several medical problems that can occur which cause the blockage of the fallopian tube and make it unable to transport the egg. Three of the most common medical problems that cause obstructions of the fallopian tubes are ectopic pregnancies, pelvic inflammatory disease, and endometriosis.

Ectopic pregnancy is the term used to describe a pregnancy that does not occur within the uterus. Most ectopic pregnancies happen when the fertilized egg implants into the side of the fallopian tube, instead of into the side of the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening to the mother and although the egg can implant the fetus cannot survive in that location. To treat an ectopic pregnancy the woman must undergo surgery to remove the implanted egg before it grows too large and ruptures the fallopian tube. Although surgery is necessary, having the surgery can cause future problems. During surgery, scar tissue can form in the fallopian tube, which can block a future egg from traveling down the fallopian tube and lead to another ectopic pregnancy.

Drawing of an Ectopic Pregnancy from a 1600s Medical Book

Pelvic inflammatory disease, also known as PID, is an infection of the female reproductive organs, including the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. The infectious bacteria are most commonly associated with infections due to sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. The bacteria enter the vagina during intercourse and can travel to the fallopian tubes where they infect the tissue. The infection turns healthy tissues to scar tissue which can narrow the fallopian tube or block the entire tube.

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