If you are a woman wondering if you have a problem with infertility, you’re not alone. It is estimated that approximately 15 percent of all couples are infertile even after frequent, unprotected sexual intercourse for at least a year. This article is not meant to replace the professional advice of your health care professional, but may serve as an overview and hopefully answer some of your questions about female infertility. In this article we will discuss causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for women facing fertility challenges.
What causes female infertility?
There are many causes and factors that contribute to female infertility. Female infertility primarily refers to low or absent egg production,or abnormal reproductive function or blockages (including in the ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus) that prevent the delivery of the egg at any point in the cycle. The main root causes can be genetic, or environmental, or temporary contributing factors such as illnesses or lifestyle factors. Sometimes injuries and related health problems can play a role. It’s complicated, but even things like diet and exercise and lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption and other factors can play a role in causing female infertility.
What are the symptoms of female infertility?
For many women, there may be no other obvious signs or symptoms of infertility other than expecting to conceive and not having that occur. Sometimes, though, a genetic disorder or other issue of a woman’s medical history may already give an indication that becoming a parent is going to be a challenge. If your medical history shows that you have a hormonal imbalance, abnormal reproductive organs, or any condition that could potentially block the normal, healthy fertilization process of sperm-to-egg and subsequent implantation into the uterus, your doctor may have already discussed what this could mean for your future. Women with polycystic ovaries for example are known to have fertility issues. Problems with sexual function such as reduced sexual desire, difficulty or pain during intercourse, a partner’s low sperm count or low mobility of sperm, can all contribute to the challenge of being able to conceive a child.
Recommended Read: Infertility: Introduction & Influencing Factors
You likely know some of this information already, but in order to discuss the treatment options, we must review the steps to a normal, healthy conception. You must be able to contribute in the following simple ways:
You must have a normal menstrual cycle, or at least one that’s not too abnormal. A menstrual cycle that’s too long (35 days or more), too short (less than 21 days), irregular or absent can mean that you’re not ovulating. You must be healthy enough to produce healthy eggs and at least one of your ovaries must be functioning correctly. Your egg needs to follow the normal pattern of movement from healthy production in the ovaries, through the delicate fallopian tubes that transport the egg until they combine with sperm to fertilize the egg, to normal implantation in the uterus. Technically, humans only need one sperm to fertilize an egg, but conception, as far as nature is concerned, is a numbers game. The more available sperm that your partner has to contribute, the more likely it is that one of those sperm will reach your egg and fertilize it.
Treatment options for female infertility
Problems with female fertility can be caused by a number of health issues and medical treatments. Each patient should be treated based on their own individual set of challenges. The treatment plan your doctor will discuss with you will involve looking at all the possible factors that contribute to a healthy conception. Some of these factors include genetics, hormones, diseases, and lifestyle.
If the problem is genetic, such as a hormone imbalance, your health care provider may prescribe medications such as FSH or LH to facilitate ovulation. Another medication called clomid may be used to stimulate egg release from the ovaries. On the other hand, certain medications you may already be taking can also be part of the problem. Diet and lifestyle also play a role – being underweight, overweight, over stressed, excess exercise, smoking, and heavy drinking can lead to fertility issues. Infertility can result from disorders of the ovaries themselves or an abnormality affecting other hormonal systems. The pituitary gland may cause excess production of prolactin (hyperprolactinemia), which reduces estrogen (your female hormone) production and may cause infertility. If the problem is due to injury, your doctor may discuss surgical options. Other problems include previous surgery in the abdomen or pelvis, including surgery for ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg implants and develops in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus.
Some infections can interfere with egg production, but once the infection is addressed through medication, egg production improves. Pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes due to chlamydia, gonorrhea or other sexually transmitted infections, can cause problems with fertility.
Recommended Read: Symptoms & Diagnosis of Infertility
Cancers and non-malignant tumors can affect the female reproductive organs. In some cases, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy used to treat tumors can affect female fertility. Endometriosis occurs when tissue that normally grow in the uterus implants and grows in other locations. This extra tissue growth can block fallopian tubes and keep an egg and sperm from uniting. Endometriosis can also affect the lining of the uterus, disrupting implantation of the fertilized egg. Benign tumors are common in the uterus. Some can block fallopian tubes or interfere with implantation, affecting fertility.
Age is an issue with some women when it comes to fertility and being able to conceive and women over 40 typically have a reduction in hormones. Being overweight or underweight is also a problem for some women trying to have a baby. And if you enjoy athletic competition, don’t overdo it. Strenuous exercise (like running a marathon) is associated with a reduction in hormones.
If the problem is psychological or relationship issues that interfere with sex, your treatment will be to address these issues through education and therapy so that you can enjoy a healthy sexual relationship.
Drug use, whether prescribed by your doctor or not, will have some effect on egg production and will certainly have an effect on the baby. Drinking alcohol can lower hormone levels and can interfere with the development of the child as well.
Make sure that you discuss your lifestyle choices along with other factors that contribute to your medical history. In reviewing this information, your healthcare professional will be able to better present you with fertility options.