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U.S. reality star Jamie Otis recently opened up about her fertility struggles and revealed she has a blocked fallopian tube.
It hasn't been easy on the 37-year-old "Married at First Sight" alum as she hopes for another child with her husband, Doug Hehner. The couple share six-year-old daughter, Henley, and three-year-old son, Hendrix, after suffering a miscarriage in the past.
Earlier this month, Otis got candid about her struggle to have another baby.
"I was secretly hoping that my recent visits to the fertility specialist would be similar to when I was trying for Hendrix — I'd show up and find out I'm pregnant already! Wouldn't that be nice?!" she captioned an Instagram Reel. "That didn't happen this time around."
Otis said recent fertility tests showed a "low normal" egg count, on top of having a blocked fallopian tube.
Otis isn't alone in her struggle. About 30 per cent of women with fertility issues have blocked fallopian tubes.
But what does that exactly mean and is there a treatment? Read on for everything you need to know.
What causes a blocked fallopian tube?
According to Ontario gynecologist Kim Alexander, a blocked fallopian tube is usually — though not always — caused by sexually transmitted diseases.
"When we talk about chlamydia and gonorrhea, those infections at times stay localized in the cervix but sometimes they actually ascend up into the uterus and tubes and become something called pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID," Alexander said.
Alexander explained scar tissues caused by infections can block one or both fallopian tubes. This means eggs can't pass from the ovary to the uterus.
"The egg goes through the fallopian tube and the sperm meets it there, and then the fertilized egg comes down into the uterus," said Alexander.
"So if the fallopian tube is blocked, then the egg can't get from the ovary."
The ONE Fertility Kitchener Waterloo clinic echoed, "Although not all PIDs are necessarily linked to sexually transmitted diseases, that's usually the primary culprit behind this infection."
Fallopian tube blockage or damage can also be caused by the following:
tubal ligation (where the fallopian tubes get cut or tied)
What are the symptoms of a blocked fallopian tube?
Alexander explained there are no obvious symptoms of having a blocked fallopian tube, with many women only finding out when they're having trouble getting pregnant.
However, ONE Fertility said some of the conditions that lead to damaged or blocked fallopian tubes do cause symptoms.
"For example, endometriosis and PID may cause painful periods, pain during intercourse or heavy bleeding during and between periods," the Ontario clinic stated.
If someone is sexually active, expert Alexander advised getting tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases even when they have no symptoms. "If there's a mild infection there, you catch it before it becomes worse," Alexander said.
Alexander added the difficulty of getting pregnant depends on the severity of the blocked fallopian tube.
"If you have one tube blocked, your pregnancy rate is actually the same as if you have none," she claimed. But if both of them are blocked, it can be much more difficult.
"You may end up having what's called an ectopic pregnancy where the pregnancy gets stuck in the tube and that can be a big problem for women."
According to the Mayo Clinic website, an ectopic pregnancy "can't proceed normally," as "the fertilized egg can't survive, and the growing tissue may cause life-threatening bleeding, if left untreated."
How is a blocked fallopian tube treated?
Tubal blockage and damage is usually diagnosed with a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) test. The test is an imaging procedure that involves a radiopaque dye being injected into the uterus and visualized with x-ray.
Alexander said if the scarring in the fallopian tube is really small, often "just shooting the dye through is enough to open things up."
"The pregnancy rate actually improves after the diagnostic dye transit test, which is kind of cool," she added.
If it's a more severe blockage, you're kind of out of luck.Dr. Kim Alexander
In some cases, surgery may be recommended to remove the blockage, but it's not always helpful.
"If it's a more severe blockage, you're kind of out of luck," said Alexander.
If the damage or blockage cannot be treated, pregnancy can still happen through IVF.
Expert's advice on reproductive health
Alexander advised women to be responsible in sexual health testing and catch infections early before they worsen and cause damage to the fallopian tubes.
She also recommended women who are experiencing very painful periods to find out if they have endometriosis, "a disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus," according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
"If they do have it, then they should ask their doctor whether they should try treatments for endometriosis that could prevent worse scarring," Alexander said.
In Jamie Otis' case, she not only had a blocked fallopian tube but also a "low normal" egg count that decreases in women as they age. But sometimes this happens sooner than expected for some people, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Otis also found that she has a gene that Alexander said shouldn't have any impact on getting pregnant, but it can contribute to miscarriages.
"A lot of infertility is multifactorial," she said.