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Infertility Demystified - What Can Cause an Inability to Conceive?

Infertility Demystified – What Can Cause an Inability to Conceive?

Top Causes of Infertility in Women

Most women spend many years trying to prevent themselves from getting pregnant, so when they do decide that the time is right to have a family and it doesn’t happen straight away, it can be a shock and a bitter disappointment. Many people are unaware that there is only around a 15-20% chance in any month that a woman will conceive, and infertility is surprisingly common, with over 6 million women in the USA struggling to either get pregnant or to carry a baby to full term.

Infertility, however, is not diagnosed until a woman has been unable to conceive for a full year, and it is only then that tests are run to determine the cause of the problem. Although in 40% of cases, the problem ends up being down to the male partner, there are a number of other reasons why a couple may struggle to have a baby, which is due to a problem with the woman’s reproductive system. With one in six couples now having issues with fertility, it is important for women to be well-informed about the top causes of infertility in women and which problems can be prevented in the first place.

PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)

By far, the most common reason for women to struggle to conceive is PCOS, a condition that is the result of hormonal imbalances which produce small ovarian cysts. 70% of female fertility problems are down to polycystic ovaries, which cause the woman’s cycle becomes disrupted, causing her to have irregular periods or missing periods for several consecutive months. Around 10% of all childbearing-aged women are affected by this condition, but under 50% of them have received a formal diagnosis. The symptoms are varied and include an unpredictable menstrual cycle, excessive hair growth, acne, skin tags, and persistent weight gain.

Hormonal Factors Which Impact Ovulation

25% of cases of female infertility are attributed to irregular ovulation due to hormonal imbalance. Usually, the cause is a dysfunction of the brain’s hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which secretes the hormones necessary for reproduction. Changes to the level of luteinizing hormones, follicle-stimulating hormones, and prolactin all have an impact on ovulation.

Primary Ovarian Insufficiency

Once known as premature ovarian failure, this condition means that a woman’s ovaries have become depleted or stopped functioning properly before the age of 40. Although it is less frequently seen than PCOS, it still affects 1% of women and can be the result of an autoimmune condition or genetics.

Endometriosis

This painful condition causes the womb lining tissues to begin to grow in other parts of the body, such as inside the fallopian tubes, behind the womb, or in the ovaries, which causes irritation and scar tissue to develop. This condition can often block the fallopian tubes, alter egg quality, cause pelvic inflammation, or disrupt implantation, causing infertility. Adhesions may also be formed in the pelvic cavity after having trauma or surgery on the reproductive organs. Women who are diagnosed with endometriosis are advised to try to get pregnant at a younger age since the chances of conception are higher in younger women due to the higher quality of eggs. Surgery is available which can remove scar tissue to improve the chance of getting pregnant, especially if IVF is received too.

Growths, Infections, or STIs

Any anatomical change to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or uterus can have an effect on a woman’s chances of conceiving, but the most likely culprit of infertility, in this case, is a fallopian tube blockage. Often infections in the tubes are caused by an organism that begins life in the cervix and progresses up the fallopian tubes, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. When these infections remain untreated, scarring of the tubes can occur, which results in a blockage that prevents the egg from meeting the sperm and becoming fertilized.

These blockages can sometimes be surgically corrected, but if the damage is very extensive, IVF is a viable solution. Women are, therefore, always advised to use a condom during sex to avoid contracting STIs in the first place and always to seek medical help straight away if there is any possibility of having been infected. Cysts, polyps, and uterine fibroids can also decrease a woman’s chance of conceiving.

Waiting Too Long To Have A Baby

These days, more women than ever before are waiting until much later in life to try for a baby, and that is another leading cause of infertility. Around a fifth of all American women now wait to try for their first child until they are over 35, and this has resulted in around a third of older couples having problems conceiving.

Women are born with all of the eggs that they will ever have, and while in her 20s, 90% of those eggs will be of good quality, by the time she is in her 40s, 90% of them are abnormal, and which means that the longer a woman waits to try to get pregnant, the higher the chance of having either too few eggs or eggs that are abnormal, and that means that conceiving is almost impossible. One of the reasons why so many women want to wait until they are older to start a family is because they want to have a career and save up enough money first.

The good news is that in this day and age, it is possible to freeze eggs at a younger age so that they can have a baby more easily once they are older and decide that the time is right. Many medical insurance plans now include egg freezing, and this treatment has become a reliable way for women over the age of 35 to conceive since the womb does not really age, meaning that if the egg is of good quality and the woman is in good health, pregnancy should be successful.

Being Obese or Underweight

Women who have a BMI which is too low or too high may also struggle to conceive. Obese or overweight women have a 2 to 4 times higher chance of struggling to get pregnant, and some obese women have a six times higher risk of having a miscarriage. This is because being an unhealthy weight can have an impact on the pituitary gland which, in turn, causes ovulation problems. Around 12% of cases of primary infertility are due to body weight issues, but the good news is that it is possible to reverse this, with women being encouraged to aim for a healthy BMI in order to improve their chances of conception. If a woman has no other contributing factor to their infertility, there is no reason why she should be unable to conceive naturally once she has attained a healthy weight, and 70% of women find that this is the case.

Unexplained Causes

Unfortunately, for 5-10% of women, there is no obvious reason why they are struggling to get pregnant. All of their tests come back showing normal results or minor abnormalities, which should have no impact on fertility. In these cases, the treatment will vary depending on the age of the woman in question. For women under the age of 35, artificial insemination and fertility drugs are often recommended, whereas, in the case of older women, IVF is often the best course of action.

How is Infertility Detected?

Infertility is typically diagnosed through a combination of medical evaluations, tests, and assessments. Here are some common methods used to detect infertility:

  1. Medical history and physical examination: The first step in diagnosing infertility involves discussing your medical history and any relevant factors with a healthcare provider. They will also perform a physical examination to check for any physical abnormalities or signs of underlying conditions that may contribute to infertility.
  2. Ovulation assessment: For women, determining whether ovulation is occurring regularly and appropriately is crucial. Methods to assess ovulation include tracking menstrual cycles, monitoring basal body temperature, and using ovulation predictor kits.
  3. Hormone level testing: Blood tests may be conducted to measure hormone levels. For women, hormone levels such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen, and progesterone are typically evaluated at specific points in the menstrual cycle.
  4. Imaging studies: Imaging techniques, such as transvaginal ultrasound for women, may be used to examine the reproductive organs for any structural abnormalities or signs of conditions that could affect fertility.

It’s important the condition of each woman is unique, so the ways of detecting fertility and infertility may be different. It’s essential to contact a certified clinic like Women’s Aid Center to undergo the proper tests and evaluations.

How Can Female Infertility Be Treated?

There are several methods that doctors can put in place to treat women with infertility problems. These include:

  • Taking hormones that can address hormone imbalances, shortened menstrual cycles, or endometriosis
  • Taking medication that can stimulate ovulation
  • Using fertility enhancement supplements
  • Prescribing antibiotics to clear an infection
  • Surgical treatments to remove scar tissue or blockages from the pelvic area, uterus, or fallopian tubes.

Is It Possible To Prevent Female Infertility?

Although female infertility that is a result of illness or genetics cannot be prevented, there are some steps that women can take to improve their chances of conceiving.

  • Practicing safe sex to avoid contracting an STI
  • Avoiding illicit drugs
  • Avoiding drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Adopting good health practices and personal hygiene
  • Having yearly ObGyn checkups

If women take good care of their health, they stand the best chance of being able to get pregnant naturally; however, with modern medical treatments such as IVF proven to be so successful, it is important for women to realize that a diagnosis of infertility is not the end of the world and that they still have a good chance of becoming a mother.

Contact Women’s Aid Center To Learn More

Are you trying to conceive a baby, but no matter what you do, nothing is working? Are you worried you may be infertile or just wondering why the process is taking so long? Book a consultation immediately because time is of the essence. At Women’s Aid Center, we are women ran an operated clinic, and we understand the unique need of our patients. If you have any concerns are want to go undergo a complete evaluation of your reproductive system, schedule an appointment with us today.

Last Updated on June 23, 2023 by Womens Aid Center Chicago


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