Fallopian Tubes

What springs to mind when Fallopian tubes are mentioned?  That they “connect” the ovaries to the uterus which leads finally to the vagina and the outside of the body?  Perhaps you think about ectopic pregnancies, as most ectopic pregnancies are indeed “tubal” pregnancies.  Whatever you may think of when Fallopian tubes are brought up, they are some of the least considered and understood parts of a woman’s reproductive tract.  Besides connecting the uterus and ovaries, do they do anything else?  Are they homologous to any part of the male anatomy?  Let’s try to answer some of the most common questions about Fallopian tubes.

First, where does the name “Fallopian” come from?  Unlike most parts of a woman’s reproductive system, this name does not come from Latin or Greek.  The Fallopian tubes are named for Gabriele Falloppio, a 16th-century Italian anatomist.  The canal through which the facial nerve runs after leaving the auditory cochlear nerve is also named after him–the aquaeductus Fallopii.

Back to the subject, why are the Fallopian tubes so often ignored?  Perhaps it has something to do with the lack of pathology or disease associated with the Fallopian tubes.  The most common maladies associated with the Fallopian tubes are, indeed, tubal (ectopic) pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).  (To read about two cases of rare ectopic pregnancies, click here.)  Ectopic  pregnancies are estimated to account for less than two of every one-hundred pregnancies.  PID is estimated to occur in nearly one in seven women in the United States.  PID accounts for a large number of all ectopic pregnancies, especially tubal.  Other disease are very rare in the Fallopian tubes.  Cancer, for example, is extremely rare and when it occurs it is often the result of adjacent cancer (such as ovarian).

So, what does a Fallopian tube look like?

The above sketch shows the different parts of the Fallopian tubes.  The fimbriae are the fringe-like extensions from the ostium of the Fallopian tube.   During ovulation, hormones stimulate the fimbriae to make a gentle sweeping motion against the ovaries to pull the released egg (or ovum) into the Fallopian tube.  The ovary and Fallopian are not actually connected to each other.  The ostium is where the fimbriae end and the Fallopian tube begins.  The infundibulum is the wider end of the Fallopian tube that narrows into the ampulla, which is the twisting portion of the tube in the above sketch.  It is where most fertilizations occur.  The ampulla continues into the isthmus, the shortest and most narrow portion of the Fallopian tube.  The pars uterina is the place where the uterus and Fallopian tube connects.

This sketch indicates better how the Fallopian tubes, uterus, and ovaries are all connected (or, in fact, not connected).  Most human Fallopian tubes are between seven and fourteen centimeters in length. Once an egg has entered the Fallopian tube, the mucosal cilia of the Fallopian tube move the egg towards the uterus.  The cilia are finger-like projects that sweep or push.  (Cilia are also found in the windpipe and sweep mucus and dust away from the lungs.)  Finally, Fallopian tubes are not homologous to any structure in the male body, thus they are completely unique to the female body.  (The ovaries, for example, are homologous to testes in males.)

Now, hopefully you and I both know a little more about the Fallopian tubes.  Want to know more or already know more and want to share it?  Please, don’t be shy!

8 thoughts on “Fallopian Tubes

  1. Hi thank you for this information! I had abdominal surgery about 10 years ago and this seems to have caused adhesions on my fallopian tubes (I think due to internal bleeding, does that make sense?). I have seen some pictures of adhesions, so I understand what they look like, but pictures of the fimbriae differ. Some pictures show them actually on the ovary and some show them quite a distance away. How do the fimbriae pick up the egg? How do they know when to move towards the ovary? Also, can mucosal cilia be healed if they are damaged by adhesions (i.e. do they recover or are they destroyed permanently). I find it’s useful to have visuals to understand how these body parts heal. Unfortunately laparoscopy is too dangerous for me, and so my only hope is to work with alternative therapies on the adhesions.

  2. Hello! Thank you for your comment and questions. I am not a medical doctor (or a doctor of any sort, yet), but here is my understanding about the fimbriae and how they pick up they egg. I believe that the distance between the ovary and the fimbriae differs depending on several factors: stage of menstrual cycle, internal structure of the individual, and (I think to a degree) position–standing, lying, etc. (I have an interesting story about this that happened during a transvaginal ultrasound.) There may be other factors, but the way it has been explained to me (by medical doctors) is that when it is time for ovulation the hormones secreted message the fimbriae to make a sweeping motion against the ovary. This coaxes the released ovum into the fimbriae. Of course, this is not always successful as demonstrated by abdominal pregnancies. Abdominal pregnancies are quite rare, though, so there is no reason to expend undue worry over this possibility.

    Here is a well-made animation of the ovulation cycle (from 1:20 to 2:05, in particular):

    With cilia, it is definitely beyond my knowledge whether they can be healed or not. I think it is not beyond hope. I have heard that cilia in other circumstances that have been damaged (i.e., with smokers) can slowly heal. If they are completely destroyed, it is not likely they will ever recover, I believe, but damaged cilia at least have some chance of recovery.

    I myself had a laparoscopy to repair adhesions after a massive laparotomy to remove a particularly large ovarian tumor. If you cannot undergo a laparoscopy, I (personally) feel that alternative therapies are a perfectly valid avenue to pursue. I was very lucky with my laparoscopy that the adhesion pained decreased dramatically afterward. There is some controversy over the effectiveness in laparoscopy in removing adhesions. As my surgeons cautioned me beforehand, they can reappear because of the laparoscopy, including new ones in places previously unaffected by adhesions. So, it is always a gamble. I believe there has even been an argument that some of the success with treating adhesions using laparoscopy has been due to a placebo effect. In other words, pain is alleviated following the laparoscopy but not because of any real, physiological benefit. So, I would never advise anyone to pins their hopes solely on laparoscopy.

    In any event, I hope some of this helps you! Good luck with everything.

    *The funny transvaginal ultrasound story goes like this: prior to my laparoscopy I required such an ultrasound to make sure the pelvic pain I had was not due to something other than adhesions. In the process, the ultrasound technician had a devil of a time getting my one remaining ovary and Fallopian tube/fimbriae to stay in view long enough to snap a picture. I had to contort in the strangest ways until she finally got them to hold still. She said that the tumor they had taken out had left my organs in a very roomy position so that they could spread out and “run away” from the ultrasound wand. I really do not think I can remember a time when I was more sore the next day than after that ultrasound.

  3. Hey everyone, greetings from New York. This is a helpful blog. I’m wondering if you have any advice on staying out of the friend zone with women? Honestly I’m sick of women telling me they just want to be friends. Perhaps I’m being too much of a nice guy?

  4. Pingback: 2010 in review « Finding Eve: A Young Woman’s Guide to Gynecology and Obstetrics

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  6. Hi thank you so much for this article above.Its indeed educative.Iv been trying to conceive in vain because my fallopians are very WAVY with many curves making them seem to be much longer than the 14 cm.I had surgery for adhessions, but still have failed to conceive.What can i do?

  7. hello well wisher,
    actually iam undertaking treatment for 2 years and laproscope done for me before 6 months. the issue for me is that my tubes are in angulated shape. wat is remedy for that? is iui treatment is remedy for me. iam 22 yrs old

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