What Causes Infertility in Women?
Fertility issues tend to be equally distributed amongst men and women, with no bias to one or the other. In essence, you or your partner both have an equal chance of bearing a fertility problem, so both of you should consult a fertility clinic if you have been trying to conceive for over a year and haven’t had any success. Infertility in women can result from any one of a number of different conditions or injuries targeting different aspects of the reproductive system or cycle. This article should help put your mind at ease if you are worried about your fertility, and would like to find out more about the potential causes.
Ovulation as the cause of infertility
If you are a woman, your fertility is very much linked to your monthly cycle. A critical part of that cycle, when it comes to conception and childbearing, is the ovulation stage. At this point an egg is released and is receptive to the necessary contact with a male sex cell (sperm) to achieve conception and pregnancy. If you have a problem with this ovulation process then chances are your fertility will be negatively affected.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is possibly the most common reproductive issue amongst women that results in subfertility. Subfertility just means that although conception maybe difficult, with some assistance and treatment it is still very possible. PCOS presents with a number of distinct symptoms which include irregular monthly menstrual cycles, acne, obesity, and the production of excess testosterone. The condition remains very treatable however, with many women able to go about a normal healthy life with specific lifestyle and medical treatments to deal with the symptoms, and hormone therapy to restore a normal reproductive cycle.
Thyroid diseases, namely hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland) and hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) can prevent ovulation because the thyroid is a centre for many key bodily hormones. Certain chronic illnesses, most prominently cancer for example, can prevent ovulation. Finally premature ovarian failure is also a potential problem, which is basically just when a woman’s ovaries cease to work as they should before the age of 40.
Fallopian tubes and the womb as a source of fertility issues
The fallopian tubes are oddly named but have a vitally important function. They are responsible for providing a route by which eggs, the female sex cell, travel from their holding place in the ovary to the womb where they can be fertilised after sex. The womb, or uterus, is where fertilisation, which is the union of male and female sex cells after intercourse, takes place and where a new born foetus will grow and develop until childbirth. Because of these critically important roles, it is no surprise that trouble with either the fallopian tubes or the womb can be the cause of sub- or infertility.
These critically important structures can in fact be damaged in a number of different ways, for example, through surgery in the area of the pelvis or cervix, through the growth of small benign tumours called fibroids which reduce fertility, or through a condition called endometriosis. The endometrium is the lining of the uterus, and in endometriosis this lining begins to grow along the fallopian tubes or ovaries where it doesn’t belong.
Medication and other interactions as a cause of infertility
Some medications, when taken over the long term, can negatively affect fertility. These are always prescribed very carefully, and if they do pose a potential hazard like infertility then your doctor will discuss these in detail and make sure that you are fully informed before going ahead with your treatment. These drugs include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which while useful, can damage fertility over time.
Chemotherapy is quite an aggressive form of cancer treatment which can cause infertility, but due to its effectiveness as a treatment it is still widely used. Fortunately if you are going to start chemotherapy then you’re doctor will talk to you about methods of preserving eggs or sperm for artificial fertilisation, a method which is becoming increasingly successful an can give many people the opportunity to get pregnant despite chemotherapy.
Illegal drugs are a serious health hazard that can severely disrupt normal fertility. It goes without saying that these substances should be avoided as they can cause permanent infertility.
Age as a cause of infertility
Fertility gradually dwindles as we get older, and for women the most significant drop happens somewhere around the mid-thirties. This can vary immensely from person to person, but the general trend describes people past the age of 35 finding it harder to get pregnant. 75% of women at 38 can expect to get pregnant after 3 years of regular unprotected sex compared to 95% at 35
Again the important points to remember are that if it’s taking you longer than you expected to conceive, that is in itself no reason for panic or stress. Talking to your doctor or going to a fertility clinic is a great way to set your mind at ease, and if there is a fertility issue there are, at present, a great many different options available that can help you.
Weight and stress
Stress is always detrimental to your health, but when you are trying to conceive it can be particularly damaging to your sex drive and fertility. Stress can affect female ovulation, and as a diminished sex drive means less frequent sex, the overall affect can be a dramatically reduced chance of conception. Obesity also affects ovulation, but being underweight can also be dangerous as your body needs a certain amount of fat to be able to ovulate properly.
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