What is Infertility?
According to The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, infertility is defined as the ability of a sexually active couple to get pregnant after one year of trying without birth control. For women aged 35 or older, the window shortens to six months.
Although it is a common issue, infertility is a complicated subject to understand. It can be caused by the woman, the man, by both the woman and man, or unknown reasons.
Fortunately, there are a variety of fertility treatments, opportunities, resources, and support available to you. If you are unfamiliar with the signs of infertility and want to learn more, you can always count on our team of compassionate doctors at Vios Fertility Institute at Hoffman Estates.
Common Signs of Infertility in Women
If you are a woman struggling to conceive, you are not alone. In the United States, approximately 7.4 million women have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. Despite a variety of available treatments, female infertility is stressful and devastating for couples who dream of parenthood.
Whether you or your partner struggle with infertility, it is important to understand the causes of infertility before you speak with your doctor. To become pregnant, a woman should experience the following:
- Ovulation – To become pregnant, your ovaries must produce and release a mature egg. To evaluate your menstrual cycles and confirm ovulation, consult your doctor.
- Sperm – For most couples, sperm count is not an issue. However, if your partner has a history of illness or surgery, a doctor may need to run simple tests or a semen analysis to evaluate the health of their sperm.
- Regular intercourse – To become pregnant, you must have regular sexual intercourse during your fertile time. To understand when you are most fertile, consult your doctor.
- Open fallopian tubes and a healthy uterus – When the egg and sperm meet in the fallopian tubes, the embryo needs a healthy and unobstructed uterus to implant and support the developing fetus.
Factors that Affect Female Infertility
Various factors can affect a woman’s ability to conceive, which means female infertility is difficult to diagnose. The most common cause of infertility in women is ovulation disorders, which account for infertility in 25% of couples.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women of reproductive age. In a woman with PCOS, the necessary hormones for an egg to fully mature are not present, which prevents ovulation from occurring and causing cysts to form on the ovaries. PCOS is associated with insulin resistance, obesity, abnormal hair growth, and acne.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) – POI refers to the significantly diminished or absent ovarian function before the age of forty. Caused by hormonal imbalances, the first sign of POI involves menstrual irregularities or missed periods.
However, there are other signs of infertility in women, such as:
- Endometriosis – Endometriosis is a disorder where uterine tissue lining develops outside of the uterus on the pelvic organs. The uterine lining continues to function as it would in the uterus by thickening and breaking down with every menstrual cycle. The extra tissue growth can cause scarring, which blocks the fallopian tubes and prevents the egg and sperm from uniting.
- Hypothalamic dysfunction – Every month, the follicle-stimulating and the luteinizing hormones are produced by the pituitary gland and responsible for stimulating ovulation. Excess physical or emotional stress or recent weight gain or loss disrupts the production of these hormones and affects ovulation, resulting in irregular or absent periods.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
If you are a woman and ready to have a baby, you should follow specific steps to optimize fertility:
- Avoid alcohol. Heavy alcohol use is linked to decreased fertility. Whether you plan to become pregnant or you already are, you should avoid alcohol at all costs.
- Exercise moderately. You should practice regular exercise, but excessive exercise can result in infrequent periods or affect fertility.
- Limit caffeine. If you want to become pregnant, you should limit your daily caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams a day. Caffeine can impact the amount of time it takes to conceive naturally.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight and underweight women have an increased risk of ovulation disorders. If you need to lose weight, consider moderate exercise.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco has adverse effects on fertility, as well as the health of you and your fetus. If you smoke and plan to become pregnant, you should quit immediately.
- Reduce stress. If you or your partner are experiencing psychological stress, you may be unable to conceive. If you can, find a way to relieve stress before trying to become pregnant.
Common Signs of Infertility in Men
While you usually hear about infertility in females, male infertility is also a common issue. Although there are no apparent signs or symptoms of male infertility, it makes up 50% of all infertility cases in couples.
If you want to conceive a child with your partner, you must achieve the following steps as the male counterpart:
- Healthy sperm production – At least one of your testicles must function correctly, and your body must produce testosterone and other hormones to trigger and maintain sperm production.
- Sperm and semen must mix after the testicles produce sperm – Once the testicles produce sperm, delicate tubes transport them until they mix with semen.
- There must be enough sperm in the semen – If your sperm count is low, it decreases the odds that one of your sperm will fertilize the egg.
- Sperm must be functional and able to move – If the movement (motility) or function of your sperm is abnormal, the sperm may not be able to reach or penetrate the egg to fertilize it.
Factors that Affect Male Infertility
Typically, male infertility is determined by semen deficiencies, such as low sperm production, abnormal sperm function, or blockages that prevent sperm delivery. Common signs of infertility in men include:
- Antibodies that attack sperm – Anti-sperm antibodies are immune system cells that mistakenly identify sperm as harmful invaders and attempt to eliminate them.
- Klinefelter Syndrome – As a chromosomal defect that occurs in males early in the womb, Klinefelter Syndrome results in smaller testes, which reduces testosterone levels and sperm production.
- Tumors – Cancers and nonmalignant tumors affect the male reproductive organs directly through glands that release hormones related to reproduction. In some cases, radiation or chemotherapy to treat tumors also affects male fertility.
- Varicocele – As the most common reversible cause of male infertility, a varicocele is the swelling of the veins that drain the testicle. It is present in about 15% of all men and about 40% of infertile men.
However, there are other factors that affect male infertility and impact sperm production:
- Environmental causes – Overexposure to environmental elements such as high temperatures, radiation, and industrial chemicals can overheat testicles and reduce sperm production or sperm function.
- Drug and alcohol use – If you take anabolic steroids to stimulate muscle strength and growth, you can decrease sperm production and shrink your testicles. Alcohol can lower testosterone levels, cause erectile dysfunction, and decrease sperm production.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
Although there are types of male infertility that are unpreventable, you can increase your chances of conception with these specific lifestyle changes:
- Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol can lower testosterone levels, cause erectile dysfunction, and decrease sperm production. Excessive drinking also leads to liver disease, which results in fertility issues.
- Avoid drug use. Anabolic steroids may stimulate muscle strength and growth, but they also shrink testicles and decrease sperm production.
- Eat healthy foods and exercise. Obesity increases the likelihood of abnormal sperm cells, which means you should maintain a healthy weight and eat a diet consisting of foods high in antioxidants to improve sperm health.
- Quit smoking. Men who smoke have a lower sperm count than those who do not smoke. Secondhand smoke also may affect male infertility.
Vios Fertility Institute at Hoffman Estates, IL Provides Hope and Help for Fertility
Whether you have been unable to get pregnant for six months to a year, it may be time to seek help. Fortunately, with advanced reproductive technology, it is possible for many couples to achieve their dreams of parenthood.
If you want to learn more about the signs of infertility and available treatment options, Vios Fertility Institute at Hoffman Estates or one of our other locations is here for you. We will help you navigate the journey and take control of your fertility health.
While we have other locations in Northern Illinois, Vios Hoffman Estates is most convenient to Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines, Northbrook, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, and Mount Prospect.
To learn more, contact us today to schedule your free consultation.