Infertility is defined as trying to get pregnant without success, by having frequent unprotected sex for at least two years. One-third of the time, infertility is the result of factors affecting the woman and the rest of the time the cause is unknown or is a combination of male and female factors.
There are causes of infertility in women that may not be easy to identify and there are many potential treatments depending on the cause of infertility. It is important to remember there are many couples who think they may be infertile but who do manage to conceive without treatment after some time.
The most common causes of infertility in women are:
☼ Your ovaries do not produce eggs. There are several reasons why you may not be producing eggs:
• Polycystic ovary syndrome – a hormonal condition that affects your menstrual cycle and how well your ovaries work. This is the most common reason why eggs are not produced regularly.
• Premature ovarian failure – when your ovaries stop working properly and don’t produce eggs regularly.
• Disorders that can affect the glands that produce hormones in your body such as the thyroid gland which can cause problems with ovulation.
• If you have a serious long-term health condition such as diabetes or cancer, it may affect your period which indicates that your ovaries are not working properly.
☼ Caused by the fallopian tubes (the tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus)
The reasons that may affect the fallopian tubes and cause fertility problems:
• Infections (such as chlamydia) that damage the fallopian tubes and can cause them to be blocked.
• Endometriosis – a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus also develops in other places in the body (including the fallopian tubes or ovaries).
• Damage as a result of surgery on the fallopian tubes or the kidneys.
• Damage from another health condition such as a ruptured appendix.
Other aspects that can affect your fertility:
• Fibroids: non-cancerous growths on the walls of the uterus.
• Smoking: includes exposure to smoking “as a passive smoker” or if your mother smoked during pregnancy.
• Drinking alcoholic beverages beyond the recommended limits or using drugs.
• Overweight: body mass index (BMI) higher than 29
• Underweight: body mass index (BMI) lower than 19
• Taking certain medications including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or antipsychotic drugs to treat conditions such as schizophrenia.
• Cancer or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) treatment.
• Prolonged exposure to chemicals found in pesticides.
• Mental stress and anxiety.
Diagnosis of female infertility
When to see a doctor? Very much depends on your age and how long you have been trying to conceive without success.
If you are under 35, most doctors will recommend trying to get pregnant for at least a year before testing or treatment. If you are between 35 and 40 years old, discuss your concerns with your doctor after you have tried for at least six months. If you are over 40, your doctor may suggest tests or treatment right away.
A cause for your infertility may not be found – and this is true for a third of couples who have trouble conceiving. However, there are several reasons why you may have trouble getting pregnant. It’s important to remember that your fertility declines over the years, which can play a role. However, more than 9 out of 10 35-year-old women who regularly have unprotected sex will get pregnant within three years of trying, and almost 8 out of 10 38-year-old women will succeed.
Consult your doctor if you are concerned about your fertility. If possible, it is recommended to attend the consultation with your partner. Your doctor may ask how long you’ve been trying to conceive and if you’ve had problems having sex, about your lifestyle as well as your medical history.
Your doctor may recommend that you have unprotected sex two to three times a week for a year before any tests are performed. After this time, or sooner if your doctor thinks you or your partner may have a lower chance of conceiving, your doctor may recommend you start to undergo some tests.
Difficulty in becoming pregnant can have psychological and emotional effects. Feeling stressed, whether because of your problems with pregnancy, your job or something else, can affect your relationship with your partner. It can also affect your libido and how often you have sex, leading to more fertility problems.
It is important to talk about it as well. There are support groups where you and your partner can meet couples who are also undergoing fertility treatments. Alternatively, talking to a professional or talking to someone unrelated to your situation may be helpful.
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Special Note: This content was created for general educational purposes, only and it might change with time. Speak to your doctor directly with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, as the content here does not replace any care plan as determined by a physician.