An estimated 10 to 18 percent of couples have trouble getting pregnant, staying pregnant, or having a successful delivery. Female infertility, defined by a woman that is unable to get pregnant after one year of trying (or six months if a woman is 35 or older), effects as many as 6.1 million women according to the CDC.
Before understanding the causes of infertility in women, it can be helpful to understand what is needed for a woman to become pregnant. The following must occur, her:
- Ovaries must release a mature egg during ovulation
- Fallopian tubes must be open to allow the sperm to fertilize the mature egg, creating an embryo
- Uterus must be healthy and unobstructed to allow the embryo to implant and to support the developing fetus
Causes of Female Infertility
Female infertility can be difficult to diagnose. In women, several factors can disrupt this process, resulting in infertility. The most common reason why women experience infertility is due to ovulation disorders. If you have an ovulation disorder, you may ovulate (a mature or immature egg) infrequently or not at all. Symptoms of ovulation disorders can include irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Problems with the regulation of reproductive hormones, such as with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), can also cause issues with ovulation. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Problems in the ovary can cause ovulation disorders, such is the case with primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), in which a woman’s ovaries stop functioning normally before she is 40.
Less common causes of fertility problems in women include:
- Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes – This can be due to several factors, including:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes due to chlamydia, gonorrhea or other sexually transmitted infections.
- Surgery in the abdomen or pelvis, including surgery for an ectopic pregnancy.
- Endometriosis, when uterine lining tissue develops outside the uterus, which can damage the fallopian tubes. Surgery to remove tissue outside of the uterus to alleviate pain can also cause scarring. Endometriosis can also disrupt the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus.
- Physical problems with the uterus or cervix, due to:
- Uterine polyps or tumors (fibroids or myomas), which are non-cancerous clumps of tissue and muscle on the walls of the uterus.
- Uterine abnormalities present from birth, such as an abnormally shaped uterus.
- Abnormal cervical mucus which can hinder how sperm travels through the cervix into the uterus.
- Unexplained causes – Some fertility challenged couples will be told there is no explanation for why they can’t conceive. It may be important to note, however, that in many cases, the odds of conceiving on your own may be higher than it is for most infertility diagnoses.
Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference
Risk factors that are a result of certain lifestyle choices may put you at a higher risk of infertility. You can increase your chances of conception by following advice regarding basic lifestyle choices. These include:
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Overweight and underweight women are at increased risk of ovulation disorders.
- Exercise moderately. Overly excessive exercise has been associated with decreased ovulation.
- Quit smoking. See Can Smoking Really Affect My Chances of Getting Pregnant for more info.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Avoid illicit drugs.
- Reduce stress. Stress can make it more difficult to conceive and even affects men too. For more, read our Stress and Conception.
- Limit caffeine. Reduce consumption to 1 to 2 cups of coffee per day or eliminate completely.
The main risk factor that you can’t control? Age. The quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs begin to decline with increasing age. For more information, read our article How Does Age Affect A Woman’s Ability to have a Baby?
Conception is Our Life
At Vios, we care about making your dreams of parenthood a reality. Not being able to conceive a child can be stressful and frustrating, but we are here to help and have a variety of infertility diagnostic tests and treatment options available.
To understand what infertility treatments may be best for your situation, contact us today to schedule an appointment.