18 Jan Top 10 causes of female infertility
Female infertility can be caused by a range of factors. Some of these are standalone causes. Others are often linked. In fact, it’s not unusual to experience a combination of several issues. Read on to discover the top 10 causes of female infertility.
If you’re a woman, it’s fairly clear-cut: your age affects your fertility. As you enter your 30s, your fertility gradually starts to decline. After 35, the decline speeds up. And by the time you’re 40, your fertility is halved. Little wonder that many fertility clinics will divert patients towards donor eggs at 40, and certainly after 42. Query any clinic that doesn’t, since it may not be acting in your best interest.
2. Ovulation issues.
In order to get pregnant naturally you need to ovulate, or produce an egg. If this doesn’t happen, it stands to reason that you won’t get pregnant. Problems ovulating can occur every month, or occasionally. Ovulation disorders can be caused by several factors. PCOS is one of them. Premature ovarian failure (POF) is another, where your ovaries stop working pretty much altogether. Underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive (hyperthyroidism) thyroid disorders can both prevent normal ovulation.
3. Tubal problems.
If your fallopian tubes become damaged, blocked or develop a ‘kink’, it can affect the ability of an egg to travel down the tube properly. Tubes can be blocked or damaged due to endometriosis, or adhesions from past surgery. Sometimes fibroids can block access. A past pelvic infection may cause tube damage. Or a hydrosalpinx, where a tube becomes blocked with toxic fluid, can occur. A lap and dye, or HSG, can be used to check your tubes. IVF treatment bypasses the tubes, giving it serious kudos when tubes play up and cause infertility.
4. Uterine issues.
Uterine or endometrial polyps are growths in your uterus. They’re normally benign, but can cause inflammation in your uterus lining. Polyps can affect your fertility, as it gets trickier for an egg to implant. That’s why removing them, often via a hysteroscopy, is often recommended. So-called Natural Killer Cells are found in the uterus. High levels of NK cells may be linked to infertility issues, particularly miscarriage. But many doctors say uterine NK cells are not a threat at all.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects how your ovaries work. Your ovaries become polycystic, which means they have multiple harmless cysts on them. This affects ovulation and the ability of your ovaries to release regular eggs. IVF patients with PCOS need to watch out for OHSS – a potentially fatal condition.
With the condition endometriosis, cells from the womb lining (the endometrium) spread to other parts of your body. The cells grow and bleed, causing adhesions and cysts to form. They block areas of the pelvis, or cause parts to become stuck to each other. For example, an ovary can get stuck to the pelvis or a tube can become distorted. Endometriosis is a leading cause of infertility in women.
7. Cervical problems.
Scarring in your cervix due to past surgery can sometimes cause infertility. So too can a problem with your cervical mucus. Normally cervical mucus changes when you ovulate, to help sperm swim through. If this doesn’t happen, it can prevent a sperm from fertilising an egg. Assisted reproduction may be needed.
8. Hormone disorders.
As mentioned above, hormone conditions such as underactive and overactive thyroid can affect fertility. So too can high levels of the hormone prolactin, which is produced by your pituitary gland (called hyperprolactinemia). In contrast, low levels of anti-mullerian hormone (AMH), a protein hormone produced in your ovaries, can indicate infertility. A blood test can determine AMH and ovarian reserve levels. IVF with your own eggs can be challenging with low AMH.
9. Past cancer.
Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, can have a major effect on fertility. If you’ve had cancer in the past, the potential impact on your fertility should have been explained to you. Some fertility drugs, such as estrogen, may not be suitable for patients with a past history of breast cancer.
10. Unexplained infertility.
Not knowing why you’re experiencing infertility can be very frustrating. But sadly, this is sometimes the conclusion reached by doctors, but only after tests have ruled out all other possibilities. About 25% of couples have unexplained infertility.
If you’re concerned by any of these potential causes of infertility, speak to your doctor or medical professional. In some cases, early diagnosis can help reduce the potential risks to your fertility. Plus, it can allow time for treatment (e.g. for endometriosis, tubal blockages, polyps or fibroids) that could put you in a better position when having IVF.